This review contains spoilers.
The tenth novel in Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series, Once Broken Faith continues the overt political overtones of its predecessor, A Red-Rose Chain. In that novel, half-fae PI Toby found herself at a hostile fae court, attempting to keep the threat of war away from her queen Arden. Her efforts there saw her and her allies discovering a cure for elf-shot, a weapon developed to circumvent the laws against purebloods killing each other by simply sending its victims to sleep for a hundred years. In Once Broken Faith, the monarchs of numerous fae kingdoms gather to decide what should be done about the cure, which risks upsetting the delicate balance of fae society. f
The novel’s shape is slightly more conventional than its predecessor’s: fairly early on a fae noble, Antonio, is murdered, and it’s up to Toby to find out why. Thus we can read it, like many detective stories, as a novel about restoring the status quo: violence breaks out, introducing disorder into an ordered society, and the detective’s job is to make sense of the violence so that justice can be served. The question, of course, is whether that justice is in fact just.
The violence that occurs in Once Broken Faith is motivated by an essentially classist desire to suppress the elf-shot cure: elf-shot sends purebloods to sleep but kills mortals and changelings like Toby, and there’s a significant faction of fae society that doesn’t care enough about the wellbeing of those latter two groups to change the way they’ve done things for hundreds of years. While Toby does of course uncover the murderers, justice proves to be out of reach: the two fae rulers, Verona and Kabos who have arranged Antonio’s murder, as well as attempts on the lives of Toby, her fiance Tybalt, and Queen Arden’s seneschal Madden, coerced a servant of theirs, Minna, to carry out the actual dirty work, leaving them technically innocent. Minna, however, is left carrying the can: as a lower-class fae who’s murdered one of the nobles, she knows she has no future in fae society, and opts to throw herself and Verona out of a high window. Thus the true villains are punished, but Minna, the person with the least power in the situation, receives not even a semblance of justice. The use of the elf-shot cure is approved by the conclave, the overtly classist elements of fae society suppressed, the non-murdery status quo restored, but the lack of a just resolution for Minna leaves us questioning whether that status quo was worth protecting in the first place.
This is one of the stronger Toby Daye novels, I think: it’s got a clear shape, it keeps Toby out of her comfort zone in the midst of pureblood politicking, it gives us a glimpse of what things are like in fae kingdoms beyond Arden’s, and it handles a large cast of characters skilfully and well. The things it’s doing in terms of plot and theme are not groundbreaking, but sometimes you don’t need groundbreaking: just a good story, competently told.