Title: Rosemary and Rue
Author: McGuire, Seanan
Pub.: DAW, 2009
Series: October Daye, Book 1
THE BOOK: At the start of this first book in the October Daye series, Toby is struggling at a minimum wage job, trying to hide amongst the mortals. She is a changeling: part human, part fae. Once she was an honored member of the fae courts, knighted for her service to her liege lord, Duke Sylvester Torquill. But when Torquil’s wife and child were kidnapped, Toby fails to brings them back and is caught in a vicious spell by the fae kidnappers who turn her into a fish and leave her in one of the ornamental ponds in San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden. The spell finally weakened after 14 long years, but the in the meantime it took everything from Toby. Her husband and child believed her dead, and in her traumatized state she turns away from the fae as well. But the fae world is not so easy to escape. An old frenemy, the Countess Evening Winterrose is murdered, and as she dies lays a curse on Toby compelling her to find her killer. Toby will have to return to the dangerous world she left behind if she wants to solve the crime.
MY TAKE: This is a fantastic urban fantasy series that begins strong but gets even better as the books go along. McGuire’s writing is sublime; smooth and engaging. Toby is a great character, stuck between worlds and ridiculously honorable. This first book is deeply melancholy as Toby is ripping open old wounds left and right in her quest to find Winterrose’s killer. The biggest flaw in this book is that it doesn’t really deal with Toby’s family. It glosses so quickly over the fact that she had a husband and child (and they couldn’t accept her return after more than a decade) but I would have expected the attempt to reconcile with them to be a huge plot thread instead of a throw-away mention. Otherwise the book does a great job of setting up Toby’s world and paving the way for the rest of the series. I hold these books with a deep, deep affection. The writing, the characters, the world are all things that keep me coming back and they are all set up here. Amazingly, this is a debut novel.
THE GENRES: Fantasy/Mystery
Fantasy: This is the dominant genre, set up almost immediately as we learn that Toby is only half human. This is an urban fantasy, where the real world setting is San Francisco but with the fae realms intersecting our world (but hidden from it). Toby has a foot in both world, living as a mundane human, but unable to break all her ties to the fae world. This first volume gives us plenty of good stuff about the fae courts and their denizens, which will be built on in future volumes. Fairy tale fantasy is very hard to do well, but McGuire nails it. She gives us creatures beautiful and terrible in equal measure who are not just prettier humans, but truly different. She knows her folklore and gives us details galore on the fae denizens to make them really come alive. The rules of fae society are sketched in although Toby has decided to live outside of those rules. We also get to see a dangerous and seedy changeling world that would have been Toby’s life if she hadn’t joined the courts and it serves as a cautionary tale.
Mystery: The mystery here isn’t especially tricky, but the added pressure of Toby having to find the killer or literally die herself gives it a special urgency. Toby is a dogged detective with an especial affinity for helping children. This white knight behavior is evident in her desire to try to help the young changelings she encounters in her search for Winterrose’s killer. There are great noir elements to McGuire’s writing — lots of dark, shadowy scenes and a deep melancholy in Toby that is common for noir heroes. Toby gets herself into enormously dangerous situations to try to solve this murder, which keeps the tension high and the pages turning. The blend of the two genres is done just about as well as anywhere in urban fantasy.
Romance: There is the barest hint of romance in this first book, and in several of the following volumes. Once we get to book 7, the series becomes a stronger romance blend, although the romance is always just part of the story, not the point of the story.
Rating: 8/10 Excellent
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