Top critical review
Flawed but enough improvement to merit 3.5 stars. Spoilers.
Reviewed in the United States on September 5, 2019
I just finished The Unkindest Tide this morning and am planning to reread shortly.
I was very critical of the last Toby Daye novel, Night and Silence. While I also acknowledge that McGuire and this series remain automatic reads for me, at least for a few more books, it IS a relief that there are major improvements in UT. Generally, a new environment, new exploration of Toby’s magical skills (the ability to see how a spell is constructed), and the conclusion of a major plot point (debt/Selkies), definitely makes it feel as if we’re treading new ground.
There are certainly cons as well, which are included below ****with spoilers**** and are significant enough that this rates about a 3.5/5 for me.
Pros (in no particular order with MINOR SPOILERS):
Pacing. Either McGuire or her editors pared this down to the essentials, which keeps the plot moving forward. Unlike previous books, we’re not bogged down with pages of background. When Toby references the past, it’s a concise summary. Very much appreciated.
The disbursement of debt (finally). I’m glad we no longer need to refer ominously to Toby’s accumulation of debts now that she and the Luidaeg are (basically) square. Yes, she accumulates more here - I’m really glad Simon is part of her new set of debts and I’m looking forward to that eventual book - but we can thankfully move past the Selkies, their uncertain future, and Toby’s role for at least 7 more years.
Tybalt and Jazz. One of my gripes with the last book was how clumsily Tybalt and Jazz’s trauma had been addressed. Here, They’re clearly coping (or not) in different ways, and I appreciate that Tybalt’s recovery is depicted as incrementally improving (he’s got back some of his verve) but still fragile. It’s a sensitive portrayal.
Logical inconsistencies (SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS).
There were plot holes that could have been tightened up. The two that bothered me the most:
The Luidaeg explicitly told the Selkies that they could steal each others’ skins but then was shocked that the Selkies might resort to assault and murder. Seriously? You’ve given these people a hard deadline to secure their and their childrens’ immortality. Why would anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together - which the Luidaeg demonstrably has - believe this would be a civilized affair? Also: did she WANT it to be a civilized affair? My initial belief was that she laid down these ground rules purposely IN ORDER to incite a massacre the way the Roane were massacred. That would’ve been crazy (awesomely) diabolical, but it turns out she was just sloppy with her words. I understand that the Luidaeg is the all-powerful-but-not-cruel semi-goddess and we’re trying to humanize her, but she’s starting to seem toothless to me.
How on earth did Toby jump to the conclusion - with zero evidence or foreshadowing - that Torin was involved with Isla? Honest question, if I missed something, let me know. I quite literally have no idea how or why that suspicion formed.
Tybalt and October’s relationship. This might be unpopular, but I found Tybalt and October’s dynamic really unhealthy. I counted three or four times when October essentially dismissed/ignored Tybalt’s pleas to consider his feelings or his desire for her safety. And mind you, he wasn’t trying to limit her, he was asking to be factored into her decision-making.
These weren’t overbearingly chauvinistic requests , and I hate that October either became immediately defensive or outright ignored his feelings. This isn’t a model for a healthy relationship and I don’t know why I’m supposed to be rooting for this couple. Perhaps if I thought McGuire was going to address this honestly, it wouldn’t be a pet peeve, but I’m not seeing any sign of that happening. Instead, Toby hugs it out with Tybalt, stokes his hair, and placates him, but doesn’t respect him enough to take his fears/wants/desires seriously. She’s being a jerk and it’s gross.
Mainstay characters reduced to caricatures. Specifically, the previously well-drawn Quentin is now the wisecracking sidekick teen while Dean has been written as some fluttering damsel perpetually horrified by Q’s lack of gravitas and fainting everywhere. It’s irritating when October plays irreverent ad nauseam and it’s equally so here. If you’re going to write a primary character badly or feel like you don’t have the space to do them justice, write them out of the instalment. It’s not like I was missing Sylvester, or even May, for that matter.
Ambivalent: Gillian and Raj’s short story. I despise Gillian, so the fact that I’m ambivalent about her presence in UT either means my tolerance has risen, my standards are lower, or she was slightly more likeable. Hard to choose. Raj’s short story was welcome, but not enough to add (or detract) a star from UT.
Ultimately, I recommend this book with caveats. I mean..UT is $13. Night and Silence is now ~$8. If you’re hesitant and not in a huge rush, then wait for the price to drop. I’m not yet at that point, but it’ll be a factor in the future if the next books are in the 2-3 star range.
There are improvements where it counts - and probably more than I’m listing above - although the ‘cons’ on this list REALLY irked me (and it wasn’t an exhaustive list either). I think it’s up to each reader to decide whether this worth the immediate investment.
Very interested in hearing others’ thoughts.