The series has changed with every book. The first one was noir-ish, and the second was an Agatha Christie-style country house mystery. Except that Dame Agatha never thought about the possibility of writing about a dryad, who, losing her forest, ended up in a server tree. The third book managed, improbably, to be a story about the boogey-man that was also a thoughtful meditation on female strength and sexuality, and about the difficult boundary between healthy and unhealthy self-reliance. I thought it was a little heavy the first time I read it, but that's more because it was about stuff I'd rather not think about, and the second, and especially the third time I reread it, I found myself appreciating the fact that it was precise and spare: McGuire doesn't mince words when she's dealing with dark stuff -- she gets right there, and then doesn't wallow.
The new book, Late Eclipses, shouldn't be read unless you've read the other three first. You could make sense of it if you really needed to -- it has those nice little cues to catch up new readers, and +10 to Seanan McGuire for making them reflect the character development that's happened since the series started, so that readers who aren't new still learn new things in the "Previously in..."
But you wouldn't enjoy it the same way, because most of the action (both dramatic and subtle) in this volume has been built up in the previous three, and because I understand how the world works, I can think about the story as I read in a way that I couldn't otherwise.
One of the things that I like about this series is that each volume so far has had a different pace. This volume moves extraordinarily fast. A lot like one of Lee Child's Jack Reacher books -- or like Die Hard films -- except that neither of those are about complex fae politics, family conflicts, and serial poisoners, all at once. In short, it's like a Jack Reacher book, except that it's SO MUCH BETTER. By better, I mean that I can think about what's happened, and how it might relate to my own life, and how it affects the world in the books; and also that I've only read one Jack Reacher book, and it was fine, but it didn't make me want to reread, or rush out and get the others.
The Toby Daye series is like the best episodes of the new Doctor Who series: when Russell T Davies wasn't faffing about; or more recently, like Steven Moffat's weeping angels two-parter. Here's what Publisher's Weekly said:
In October "Toby" Daye's fourth outing, following 2010's An Artificial Night, the half-Fae private detective is once again run through the wringer when problems plaguing the San Francisco Fae community strike home on a personal level. First, in an unprecedented, unexpected move, the Queen of the Mists promotes Toby to countess. Given that the Queen hates her, it's quite obviously a trap, but not something Toby can refuse or avoid. Subsequently, several of Toby's closest friends are struck down through poison and illness, and she's accused of murder. Has an enemy from Toby's past resurfaced, or is she losing her mind? Physically, emotionally, and magically drained, faced with tragedy and despair, Toby's forced to deal with the long-hidden truth behind her Fae heritage. In this tightly plotted adventure, McGuire mixes nonstop action with a wealth of mythology to deliver a wholly satisfying story. (Mar.)
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I still have questions (as well I should, because the series isn't over yet), but with each book, I've felt like plenty is revealed, and plenty of new developments are introduced. There aren't awful cliffhangers. (Unless you count the scene that's included at the very end, as a preview of the next book, which manages to be both tense, and hilarious in a way that reminds me both of James Bond and Doctor Who.)
Read if: you like mysteries, action films, stories that are subtly about family/growing up/broken relationships but that don't put those conflicts in the main spotlight, romances that develop slowly, main characters who make mistakes, series where the overarching story is revealed bit by bit in multiple books.
Avoid if: you can't stand it when characters die, you require romances to have lots of hot and heavy sex, or you need the Massive!Overarching!Story to be revealed in one volume.
I try to avoid broad statements about the BestBookEver, because I don't believe there's only one, but this series is in ppbk for 7.99 each, and 6.99 on Kindle, and really, I can't think of another set of books being published right now where you're getting so much bang for your buck.
Get it at Amazon -- or better yet, go to your local brick and mortar.