Sleep No More is the 17th novel of the Hugo-nominated, New York Times bestselling October Daye urban fantasy series by Seanan McGuire.
The book follows October, who is very happy with her life as the second daughter of her pureblood parents, Amandine and Simon Torquill. Born to be the changeling handmaid to her beloved sister August, she spends her days working in her family’s tower, serving as August’s companion, and waiting for the day when her sister sets up a household of her own. Everything is right in October’s Faerie. Everything is perfect.
Everything is a lie.
October has been pulled from her own reality and thrown into a twisted reinterpretation of Faerie where nothing is as it should be and everything has been distorted to support Titania’s ideals. Bound by the Summer Queen’s magic and thrust into a world turned upside down, October has no way of knowing who she can trust, where she can turn, or even who she really is. As strangers who claim to know her begin to appear and the edges of Titania’s paradise begin to unravel, Toby will have to decide whether she can risk everything she knows based on only their stories of another world.
But first she’ll have to survive this one, as Titania demonstrates why she needed to be banished in the first place—and this time, much more than Toby’s own life is at stake. Read on to try the first chapter of Sleep No More.
Sleep No More
Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!” —William Shakespeare, Macbeth.
Samhain and Beltaine are the hubs around which the rest of Faerie’s year turns. The two Moving Days, when the least among us—those ranked even lower than changelings like myself—are free to pack up their lives and move along to their next home. That freedom extends not only to the forgettable. On the Moving Days, courtiers, changelings, and servants can move between demesnes without concern for the possibility that they might offend the Lords and Ladies under whom they serve, for Oberon himself has granted his blessing. The skies go dark with flocks of pixies, Piskies, and leaf-winged sprites, and the roads are thick with traveling petitioners, all of them seeking a new place to belong.
Since I reached my majority, it had become my duty to man the door and watch the gate during the weeks surrounding each Moving Day, providing the levels of hospitality required by Oberon’s decree and not a crumb or comment more. It was simple work, beneath the others who dwelt in the household, and yet still I took pride in it. On those fleeting nights, I felt shamefully as if I held some actual station in our house.
A family of Hamadryads were the latest to find their way to Mother’s tower, three pureblooded adults and two children, both of whom carried the distinct marks of human heritage. The five of them approached along the road connecting us to Shadowed Hills, and one of the children glanced back over her shoulder with glossy eyes and a quivering lip, making me wonder whether they had first sought sanctuary in my uncle’s halls. Fools. Wherever they had been before they started this journey must have been glad to see them go, to have released them early and so very unprepared.
I adjusted the drape of my cloak and moved from the window to the hall between the sitting room and kitchen, where I would be able to hear them knocking at whichever door they chose to approach.
If they came to the kitchen door, cutting through the back garden, I would give them parcels of bread and cheese Father had prepared for this very purpose. The bread was rich with herbs he had grown himself, and I sometimes suspected he enchanted it in some small way, to give petitioners luck on the journey yet ahead of them. These people would need it, clearly. For them to have removed changeling children from the household they were born to serve was not a violation of the rules, but it was unseemly at the very least, and unwise by any measure. Such children’s lives would always have been short. Now they would likely be hard and brutal as well, for what liege would ever trust them not to flee a second time?
If they came through the front garden to the main door, I would give them nothing at all. It was not Moving Day proper yet, and even if it had been, Mother’s careful avoidance of any title save the one she was born to—Firstborn—meant the laws of hospitality had little claim over her. These travelers could no more demand the comforts of her house than they could shake away the evidence of their transgressions.
What happened next was entirely on them. I stood in the hall, eyes closed and head tipped back, breathing in the comforting scent of smoke and roses. I knew the truth of my parentage. Mother could never have gotten August a handmaid through her bridal bed, and there was nothing of Father’s lineage in me. Still, it would have been nice to find something familiar in the attenuated air of my own paltry spellcasting. The copper spoke to Mother’s blood, at least in the abstract, but freshly cut grass? What self-respecting daughter of a good family smelled like a lawn?
The word was devoid of context in my mind, and I opened my eyes, blinking into the dimness. What was a lawn? I knew it as a term for fine linen, but laundry had nothing to do with the smell of my magic. No, I had thought of the word as something to do with grass . . . but why?
A heavy knock disrupted my attempts to puzzle out the meanderings of my own mind. At the kitchen door, thank Oberon and his beautiful bride. I started for the kitchen, pulling my hood up to hide my ears and shade my features. Everyone local knew of Amandine’s two daughters, the tarnished and the true. They would never doubt my loyalties. Even so, those who traveled with changelings were all too often inclined to take my visible mortality as a sign that I might sympathize with them, that I could be called upon to offer aid beyond what tradition required of me, and those things could not have been less true. There is no shame in standing by the rules of your house.
There is still shame, I feel, in misleading someone, however unintentionally. My blood and magic clearly felt the same, for they had never been inclined to illusions, however hard I struggled to master and call them forth. Nothing in me wished to lie.
The knock came again, not impatient, but harried, as if the knocker were on the verge of panic. I stepped up to the door, unlatched it, and pulled it open, allowing the migrants on the step their first and only glimpse of the interior of my mother’s tower.
The kitchen is and has always been Father’s domain. Cuts of meat and dried alliums hung from the ceiling, suspended alongside sacks of fresh potatoes, squash, and onions. Wheels of cheese and bottles of oil crowded the shelves, and everything smelled of fresh-baked bread and spices.
I have always felt most comfortable in the kitchen and the kitchen garden. The rest of the tower is like the front garden, meant for Mother and for August. I am better left behind the scenes, protected and anonymous. Father sees that need in me, and has always done his best to nurture it.
From the way the Hamadryads stared past me into the gloom, that simple kitchen must have seemed a paradise. I gave them a few seconds to gape at what they would never touch, then cleared my throat, snapping their attention back to me.
“Greetings,” I said, tone formal. “I am October, daughter of this house. What do you seek?”
A question was not an offer of aid, nor did it create the expectation of same. The light that had been growing in the eyes of the man at the front of their group flickered out and died, extinguished in an instant. It was better that way. A blunt dismissal might ache, but it was preferable to leading them on.
“I am Eion,” he said, touching his chest with one slim-fingered hand. His skin, like many Hamadryads, was a dusty grayish-brown, the color of ash bark, and his hair was the same but several shades darker, trending toward a flaming autumnal red at the tips. A direct descendant of Melia, then, most likely, only two generations removed from Maeve’s dishonor.
That made the presence of changelings in his company all the more appalling. The children of the Firstborn are meant to know better, to be better as an example for all of Faerie. Even those who claim descent from Maeve should hold themselves to a higher standard.
All the ritual responses I could give would involve offering him the comfort or the kindness of the house, neither of which I was authorized to give, and so I held my tongue, and waited for him to continue.
“We have come from Wild Strawberries,” he said, reading my silence for the refusal that it was. “We departed on the first hour of the Moving Day festivities and have made our way this far entirely on foot. The children are weary. We seek a place to rest for the coming day, to let our roots dip into living soil and feed our tired bodies.”
“There is no room for wild planting in my mother’s garden,” I said, and was relieved to know my words were true, for the children looked around themselves with wide-eyed yearning, drinking in the sight of so many green things growing so very, very well. It would have pained me to lie to them.
I would have done it anyway, of course. I knew my duty almost as well as I knew my place.
Eion frowned. “Surely there must be a scrap of ground, somewhere, suitable for us to stop a while,” he argued. “Somewhere out of the way, outside the garden walls.”
“And had you come any time but immediately prior to Moving Day, I might have been able to find you something,” I said. “If we allow you to root here now, with the year about to turn, you would be able to cry for hospitality, and my lady mother would be left with no proper choice save to grant it. We dwell here, between demesnes, because she has no desire to guide or guard a holding, only to live in peace with her family and be left alone.”
“We wouldn’t do that,” blurted one of the women. She stepped forward, putting herself level with the man, reaching for me, and I managed, barely, not to recoil. Like him, her hair ended in flaming red, as if the seasons had hold of her in body, not only custom.
“I swear, we wouldn’t,” she continued. “Only it’s been such a long walk already, and the children are so tired, and we have such a long way left to go.”
“Maia, please,” said Eion sharply.
“What is your destination?” The question drew me dangerously close to showing them the kind of concern that could be taken as an expression of responsibility, and yet I found I couldn’t help it. The children truly did look exhausted. If not for their human heritage, I doubted they would still have been on their feet.
Hamadryads are closely related to the true Dryads, although their weakened ties to the purity of flower magic have left them unable to truly bond with their trees. Instead of spending their lives tied to a true and sacred grove, they flit from vessel to vessel, renewing their roots with dips into the soil, hot-blooded enough to procreate with humans. In our lessons, Mother had taught me they were the best Maeve could do in imitating her better sister, and should be pitied but never trusted.
Most Hamadryads chose gestures and the sound of wind or birdsong for their names. That these spoke their names in a shape my tongue could echo told me they had been among a proper Court for some time before setting out on this ill-advised journey. That, and the quality of the clothes worn by the three adults, made me wonder if they traveled now of their own free will, or at a noble’s command.
“Golden Shore,” said Maia. “We have heard that such as we can be welcome there.”
This time, I was unable to control my face quickly enough to hide my moue of distaste. “Yes,” I said, pleased when my voice came out level, if not kind. “They are likely to welcome you.”
The Kingdom on the Golden Shore stocked our shelves with the things my father could not grow himself, or that we lacked the room to cultivate; for all that Mother liked a good quiche from time to time, she hated the sound of poultry and wouldn’t allow Father to keep chickens. As she also refused to allow any member of her family to shop in mortal lands, we had to purchase our eggs from Golden Shore, where they were laid by good, honest Alectryon fowl as Oberon intended. Meat was likewise acquired from their vendors, and all the other luxuries to which August would have been heir, had not Maeve so cruelly cut us off from the deeper lands of Faerie.
Golden Shore provided these wonders through backbreaking labor, and as few among the true fae would choose that life when offered any alternative, they swelled their workforce with changelings seeking a place that would accept them for what they were.
It seemed a cruel life to condemn a child to, unfair in the extreme. But then, it was the best any changeling born without a promised place could hope for.
“You have as far to go as you have already come, and I am not empowered to offer anything which might be taken for hospitality this close to Moving Day,” I said. “Why did you choose to travel now, if you know where you’re bound?”
“Our girls,” said Maia, miserably. “Ashla and Gable. Gable is to be sixteen at Ostara, and our liege—our former liege—had begun to speak of placements.”
The children, whom I had taken for younger than the age she claimed for them, glanced over at the sound of their names, then went back to watching the garden with hungry, weary eyes.
“There are households in Wild Strawberries glad to have changeling service,” she continued. “They call themselves benevolent, for being willing to be so tarnished. For being so very generous. But the children they claim rarely last a handful of seasons. They break. Their employers carry none of the blame, of course, and there’s no crime in the death of a changeling, but still, they . . . they break.”
Either she had caught enough of the angle of my cheekbones in the shadows of my hood, or she already knew my nature. Still, it was dangerous for her to speak so to a stranger. Not all changelings are sympathetic to our own kind. Not all have had my advantages in life.
The children moved closer to the as‑yet-unnamed woman, seeking some sort of comfort, their exhaustion evident in the way they pressed themselves under her arms, baby birds seeking the warmth of the nest. Impulsively, I grabbed for the parcels Father had made, taking two in each hand, and thrust them at Eion.
“My father baked this bread himself, with wheat he grew in the fields between here and Shadowed Hills,” I said. “The herbs are of his garden. The cheese is from your destination, and should strengthen you. Take this as well.”
I plucked a jar of half-eaten blackberry jam from the counter and held it out, pleading silently for him to catch the implication.
“No one claims the blackberry tangles beyond the swamp, which is unreasonably infested with pixies,” I said. “It would be deeply unsafe to venture there, especially in the company of children.”
“Who makes the jam?” he asked, warily.
“My father and I,” I said. “We gather blackberries from the very edge of the tangle, when the pixies allow it, and then we boil them down in this kitchen.”
He feared goblin fruit, then, as was only sensible for someone who traveled in such . . . mixed company. I had heard rumor that Hamadryad changelings were more resistant to the call of the fruit than most, but “resistant” is not the same as “immune.” Best to avoid temptation until they could reach Golden Shore, where they would be protected by the Kingdom’s customs.
Hesitant, he took the jar from my hand. “No one claims it?” he repeated.
“Not past the verge,” I said. “The thorns are too thick, and the ground too soft to anchor a knowe. If any venture there, we do not know them.”
“Your kindness is noted, and will be remembered,” he said, with a small bow. The women didn’t mirror his gesture, but watched me with hope and relief in their faces.
I glanced away, not wanting to see them look at me as if I understood their struggle. I didn’t, and I knew that. The lives of changelings were short and brutal, better than humans only because they could see the glories of Faerie, worth less than both humans and fae in every other possible way. They were protected by no Law save the rules of hospitality and fealty: by leaving their liege, these people had left their daughters open to all the threats Faerie had to offer. Who was I, orchestrated, wanted, and beloved, to pretend at understanding what they suffered? I had never lived a day outside this tower, and Oberon willing, I never would.
If Mother tired of me and cast me out before August was ready to establish a household of her own, I had little doubt that I wouldn’t survive the year. I have never had a head for survival. Mother has made sure I knew that well and truly.
The man straightened, and hesitated before he spoke again. In that hesitation I read the impropriety he was about to commit, and should have slammed the door in his face, should have shut myself away from him before he could somehow taint me with his words.
“You could come with us, if you liked,” he said. “You appear old enough to have reached your majority, and Moving Day approaches; you would commit no crime by declaring yourself free of this household.”
I recoiled. “My name is October,” I said, as I had at the beginning of this unwanted conversation. “I am the daughter of this house. My mother, Amandine, is daughter to Oberon himself, and my father, Count Torquill, keeps no noble Court because he is sworn alchemist to the Rose of Winter, keeping her household well supplied. I have no desire to be free of this place or these people, and by your suggestion, you shame our house. Leave now. We have offered you no hospitality, nor are we obliged to do so.”
“M‑my apologies, Lady,” he stammered. “I read the situation wrongly. I intended no offense.”
“Intention doesn’t always match reality,” I said. Then I glanced behind him, to the two changeling girls clinging to the trembling woman.
They looked at me as if I were the most terrifying thing they had ever seen, worse, even, than the noble who would have handed them off to a liege known for killing changeling children. I wanted to wither under those eyes. I wanted to protest that no, no, I was not a monster; I was simply a girl who knew her place, who was content where she was, who understood her limitations.
And yet here I was, safe and comfortable and cared for, while the best they could hope for was a clean patch of ground amidst the briars, deep enough for them to sink their roots into for a day before they resumed their quest for a place where they could be sure of their futures.
I would have hardened my heart, had I only known how. I did not, and so I grabbed another parcel, this one of sweetened fruitcake, intended for my own supper, and thrust it at the man. He took it, apparently automatically.
“Open roads and kind fires, and all the winds to guide you,” I said, and shut the door before I could be drawn any deeper into looping, confounding conversation. Turning my back to it, I leaned against the wood, and waited.
No further knocking came.
Excellent. More tired than I should have been after such a brief encounter, I wiped my brow with one hand and made for the sitting room. Sure, a moment’s rest meant taking my eyes off the road, but I would hear the knocking whether or not I could see who was coming up the path, and so long as I stayed here to greet them, I would be fulfilling my duties.
My name, as I have now stated twice, is October. That is all. I have no right to Father’s name, for all that the law deems me his daughter, and my mother never told me the name of the man who sired me, the mortal she entreated to her bed for a night of unspeakable ecstasy. I am born of two worlds, balanced between them as precisely and perilously as anything has ever been. There is more of the fae in me than mortality, as if that mattered: each of the Firstborn has something they can do better than any of the others. My mother’s trick is in changing the balance of someone’s blood.
Rumor says there were once devices that could be set to the same end, but they were too difficult to control; they rendered our social customs unstable and unsustainable, for any changeling child could get their hands upon one such and remake themselves in Titania’s image without intervention or consent. Better to keep such power where it would be used responsibly and correctly. Better to keep it in my mother’s hands.
Mother is forever in demand among the Courts, called upon to make a changeling child a little less fae, so as to render them able to better stand the sting of iron, or a little less mortal, to not offend a sensitive noble’s eyes. Her services are but one of the many reasons changelings are better off within the Court system rather than hiding in hovels with parents who should have known better than to bear them without.
Because of what I am, I will never marry, never have a household or children of my own. But Faerie must have servants to function smoothly, and so changelings are required. Each noble house and each among the Firstborn is asked to do their duty, to provide a pair of hands to press into the service of greater Faerie. Mother put off that unpleasant necessity for as long as she possibly could, until pressures that were not mine to know compelled her to slip into the mortal world long enough to return with me, a babe in arms, my blood already adjusted to the levels she required.
October, she called me, in honor of an aunt I never knew, who died long ago in a human war, but whose daughter, January, still dwelt in her father’s halls in Briarholme. It was a cruel and bitter gift to give to me, who would never be September Torquill’s equal, and a perpetual reminder that my place was behind my sister. As August came first in the calendar, so would August come first in our lives.
Should my sister choose to start a household of her own, she could ask me to come with her and stand in service—would, in fact, be expected to do so. A pureblood could no more offer insult to a changeling than a cat could look at a king, but if she left and chose not to take me, it would be assumed that I had somehow offered insult to her, and I could be made to pay the price.
There are few shades of punishment where changelings are concerned. We are weak to many things that trouble not the fae, but strong against iron, which would be the preferred means of disciplining an unruly commoner who somehow offended a noble. If August left without me, my death would be the likely outcome.
I slumped into one of the uncomfortable couches Mother insisted were appropriate for the sitting room, allowing my eyes to close. The Hamadryads had not been the first such group of travelers to come along our road this Moving Day; most of the people I’d seen had been in clusters that I took for families, almost all of them sheltering a changeling child or two, and none of the changelings older than sixteen. All running for Golden Shore.
Something was terribly wrong, if Faerie’s children were so afraid of their own homes, their own places. I frowned to myself, a private expression. Such thoughts were unbefitting. Nothing was wrong. Nothing could be wrong, not in Titania’s Faerie.
We lived in a perfect world, watched over by a perfect queen who saw to it that everything was balanced, everything was fair, everything was exactly as it was meant to be. To think anything else was to fail her. To fail her was to fail Faerie.
I have been a failure too many times. I forced my eyes open and rose.
Time to return to my duties.