Rosemary and Rue (October Day #1)
I have a soft spot for urban fantasy. Plucky heroines, luckless detectives, murder, magic, and mayhem. When an urban fantasy is done right, when an author manages to blend our own mundane reality with other realities both strange and magical it is a wonderful experience that, long after the book is closed, will leave you looking askance at your everyday life. So yeah, I might scoff at the tramp-stamp be-speckled covers, I might groan at the paranormal romance plots that suffuse the genre but at the end of the day I’m still going to read the book and, even if I wouldn’t want to admit it, I’ll probably enjoy it. So when I heard good things about Seanan McGuire’s October Day novels I decided that it was worth a shot and nabbed a copy of the Rosemary and Rue via Audible.com with bonus benefit being that it was read by Mary Robinette Kowal (an accomplished editor and author in her own right).
October “Toby” Daye is a changeling, born of a human and a fae parent. She works as an investigator for a faerie lord though she has a “normal” life with her own human husband and a daughter. In the novel’s opening things go horribly wrong for Toby and her happy life is ripped away when she is trapped by a spell for 14 years. In the world again her husband and daughter will have nothing to do with her and, while she tries to lead a normal life, finds herself inexorably drawn back into the world of the faerie when her close friend, the Countess Evening Winterrose, is murdered. Compelled by her friend’s dying wish Toby is thrust back into her old life.
The first thing to note about Rosemary and Rue is the wonderfully rich and detailed world building McGuire uses. She seamlessly integrates and insinuates the world of faerie into our own. The city of San Francsico and its environs is carefully broken up into various fairy duchies with bolt holes and passages into the land of faerie scattered across the city. One of the aspects of the story that is central to Toby’s character is the notion that she is a changeling, a half-human half-fairy. In McGuire’s setting those changeling children who manifest power must choose between the human world and the fairy world. In truth this is a catch-22 choice as it will end in tragedy either way. As we learn the difficulty Toby faces as a changeling it really makes one question why she even considered having a child of her own. Its a decision that I suspect may come back to haunt her in the future; but that is abject speculation.
It is stated in the novel that Toby has earned a knighthood in the service of a fairy lord and, as a result, she is thought of rather highly by her lord and her friends (though changelings are still looked down upon by the “purebloods”). This is where my problems with the novel begin since I cannot understand what qualities could have merited Toby a knighthood. Over the course of the novel Toby seems to stumble from one scene to the next with very little direction and her method of finding a lead amounts to wandering around until someone or something tries to kill her. I mean the novel even opens with Toby failing miserably at her profession so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that the rest of the novel follows through with a commensurate level of detective skill. I’m being a bit harsh but I honestly didn’t have a lot of faith in Toby’s skills throughout the novel.
I don’t know if that same level of borderline incompetence on Toby’s part continues throughout the series but I certainly hope not; especially since the world McGuire has built is a fascinating one. Additionally McGuire has set up some interesting, long-term mysteries from Toby’s manic mother, to the disappearance and reappearance of the Duke’s wife and daughter, said daughter’s obvious insanity, and the Queen of Mist’s odd behavior there are some interesting revelations one hopes will be seen down the line. While Toby’s skills as a detective leave a lot to be desired the strength of the world around her, and the clever tension between the mundane world and the fey world, makes for an interesting read. Recommended for fans looking for an urban fantasy with a slightly different twist.