Rosemary and Rue is the first book in the October Daye urban fantasy series by Seanan McGuire. It is scheduled for release on September 1, although I did see several copies both in the new paperback section and in the SFF section at my local Borders yesterday. According to McGuire’s FAQs page, the number of books in the series is uncertain, although she says “several” is a safe answer and currently has plans for at least eight books (two of which are done, one which is being revised, and one which is being written). The second and third books are entitled A Local Habitation and An Artificial Night and will be released on March 2, 2010 and September 2010, respectively. All the titles are taken from Shakespeare plays, which I thought was very cool (being the dork that I am).
October (Toby) Daye is a half-fae PI specializing in cases that tend more toward the Brothers Grimm than Magnum PI, in her own words. Unknown to her human fiance and little girl, Toby is looking for the missing wife and daughter of Duke Sylvester Torquill, her liege lord. While tracking her lead suspect, Toby is discovered by him and turned into a fish. She remains a fish for fourteen years and returns to a world much changed – and a former fiance and daughter who no longer want anything to do with her.
No longer a PI, Toby now works at a Safeway in her home city of San Francisco. It’s a quiet existence and she tries to avoid most of the people she knew, including Duke Torquill, who must despise her for failing to find his family all those years ago. One day Toby checks her answering machine messages and has three desperate calls from Countess Evening Winterrose, each more desperate than the last. In the final message, Evening says she wishes to hire Toby to find a murderer and says the words of binding to force her to do so. Afterward, Evening leaves the phone off the hook and Toby hears gunshots and screaming, and knows it is Evening’s own killer she has been charged to find.
At first, I did find Rosemary and Rue a little difficult to get into, although there were enough interesting parts to keep me reading until it did pick up. It did get very enjoyable once the main mystery became clear, but until that point there had been a lot of setup with not much happening once the prologue, which told what had happened to Toby fourteen years earlier, was over. There was a lot about Toby’s new everyday life with a lot of exposition about the world she inhabited that halted the narrative flow. The story was all told from Toby’s perspective, so every time she thought about somebody or experienced something normal for fae but strange to the reader, she’d explain it. This technique is often used, especially in the first book in a series when the ways in which the world operates is being conveyed, but I always find it a bit awkward when the main character starts explaining something to themselves that is as natural to them as breathing. Further into the book there was less of this, and I found it a lot easier to read once there was more flow to the story and less halting to explain who people were and their role in court or how Fae magic worked.
Even though it was a fun read, this novel did not strike me as anything that unusual for the urban fantasy genre – it was basically a mystery involving fae with a brave female heroine who could be kind of mouthy. In spite of her outward appearance, there were some moments that showed she was more caring than she acted and was not always good at expressing her softer side. Those parts seemed rather typical, but Toby’s position as a changeling gave her some uniqueness. Since she is not clearly compartmentalized as a witch, were, or fae, she has a bit of a dual nature and isn’t quite sure where she fits in. Toby is not fully human nor is she fully fae so by being part of both worlds she really seems to feel that she belongs to neither. Since she was not a pureblood fae, Toby was not even close to invincible or even that powerful. She had only minor magical powers and using them tired her out pretty quickly. Our heroine actually got hurt quite a bit instead of always managing to come away unscathed.
This book was plenty dark with murder most foul and kelpies on the streetcorners, but even though many of the fae were not particularly good, many of them did not seem particularly amoral (which is how I tend to think of the fae). Some of them could not be trusted, but some of them seemed to truly care for Toby without having an ulterior motives or expecting anything in return. The fae seemed somewhat human in that regard with some tending more toward good and others more toward evil.
There was one character I absolutely loved by the time I was finished with the book – Tybalt, King of the Court of Cats. I really liked what I read about him and suspect there is a lot to him that has yet to be revealed. Fortunately, when I said I hoped there would be more of him in the next books on Twitter, Seanan McGuire responded and said there would be. (I confess that I am partial to kitties and also loved the cat-like rose goblins and the fae connection to cats in this book.)
Though this is the first book in a series, there was a satisfying conclusion without any major cliffhangers. However, there were definite hints of things to come that made me eager to read the next book (especially after hearing confirmation that there would definitely be more Tybalt).
Rosemary and Rue was a solidly entertaining debut novel, although it did not get me involved in the story immediately. However, I liked the characters and world well enough that I reached the end wishing I had the next book available.