Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
“All magic hurts,” says October “Toby” Daye, and she’d know better than most.
Rosemary and Rue begins in 1995, when Toby, a half-faerie/half-human P.I., runs afoul of some nasty faeries while trying to solve a kidnapping. Toby is cursed, rendered out of commission for fourteen years, and in the process loses the happy human life she’d been trying to build.
It’s been six months since Toby was released from her curse. She wants nothing to do with the fae, but the fae won’t let her go that easily. When Countess Evening Winterrose, with whom Toby shared an uneasy friendship, is murdered, she lays a geas on Toby in her final moments: Toby must solve the crime or forfeit her own life. Rosemary and Rue tells the story of Toby’s investigation of that murder, and of her reunions (some happy, some not) with the faeries she knew in the past.
My overall impression of Rosemary and Rue is one of pain, both emotional and physical. Seanan McGuire makes our heart ache for Toby in the first few chapters as we learn her history. As for physical pain, this woman gets hurt more often than Devon Monk ‘s Allie Beckstrom, and that takes some doing.
McGuire has done a great job of world-building. She’s done her research about faeries, and it shows. I always like it when an author can successfully make fae culture seem foreign — governed by rules completely unlike our own — rather than just a more glamorous version of human culture. McGuire’s take on faerie society and etiquette is reminiscent of Emma Bull ‘s. The buzz about Rosemary and Rue is that it’s a book where “old school” and “new school” urban fantasy meet, and in that respect, the buzz is accurate. I also liked the hints of faerie history and the way McGuire wove her fantasy world into the real geography of San Francisco. There are also a few delightful inventions that are all McGuire’s own, like the rose goblins. (I wonder how my dog would get along with a rose goblin…)
I was a little disappointed in the novel as a whole. The problem, I think, is Toby. She’s not driving this story. I wanted to see her shake off her inertia and kick some butt or, since she’s presented as a “brains” character rather than a “brawn” character, kick some metaphorical butt by doing some great detecting. But while Toby is constantly in trouble, getting shot, etc., she doesn’t take the initiative very often. Even the solution to the crime is almost handed to her. Then there’s her love life. When Toby sleeps with a real sleazebag of a character, McGuire proves that even a fade-to-black scene can leave an icky taste in the reader’s mouth.
That said, I will be reading further in the October Daye series. I really like the world Seanan McGuire portrays here, and I think I could come to love Toby if she sticks to the resolutions she makes at the end of Rosemary and Rue. (And if she realizes that a certain gentleman of the feline persuasion is actually quite enamored of her. Team Tybalt, all the way!)
October (Toby) Daye is a changeling — half fae, half human. She’s been living in the mortal world, trying to avoid nasty faerie politics, but she’s suddenly been thrust right back into it when a pure-blood faerie countess is murdered and Toby has to solve the crime before succumbing to a curse.
I don’t read a lot of this type of urban fantasy, so I can’t compare Rosemary and Rue to most of its peers — I can only compare it to what I normally read. Coming from that angle, my opinion is that Rosemary and Rue is a well-written novel with some fine world-building and characterization, but it’s not an excellent novel.
The world-building is quite extensive and heavily based on faerie lore. I loved the way that San Francisco was divided into faerie duchies. This was innovative and interesting and I learned a few things but, unfortunately, it often felt like we were walking the pages of a faerie encyclopedia because there were frequent descriptions and explanations of every imaginable fae creature: selkies, peris, pixies, sprites, redcaps, hobgoblins, etc, etc. This does make October Daye’s world feel real and vibrant and creative, but it was also a lot of information to give us which means less plot and slower pace. This is likely to get better in subsequent novels — once we feel established in October’s world.
I sympathized with October’s situation and found her likable enough, though I didn’t quite understand why other characters thought so highly of her. There’s nothing wrong with October Daye — but she’s not particularly compelling as a heroine. She made a few moves that were supposed to be brave, but I just thought, “Hey! What are you doing? That’s a good way to get yourself in trouble!” And guess what? Yeah, she got in trouble. Trouble is fine, but not when you should have seen it coming.
Toby’s voice is slightly sarcastic — not in a caustic way (thankfully), but in a flippant way. I know this is common with urban fantasy heroines, but it’s just not my type of humor. In fact, I don’t think I laughed or chuckled even once during this novel which means that there was no relief from the tension for me. I’d much prefer to have a grimmer novel that at least had some real humor to give us some bright spots (Joe Abercrombie’s so good at that). This is likely an issue with my own personality and humor preferences.
I also couldn’t relate to Toby’s attachment to Devin, the creepy caretaker of the changeling half-way house. I think this is what disappointed me most about Toby — she really should have been disgusted with him from the beginning, but she was half disgusted and half in love. Yuck. This is probably the main reason I couldn’t embrace Toby — I just couldn’t understand what she was thinking.
I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version which was read by Mary Robinette Kowal. Ms. Kowal did a truly excellent job with Toby — it was perfect. However, I must say that her voices for most of the other characters where cringe-worthy. Her male voices especially were unpleasant and several of the voices that were supposed to sound ethnic were just strange. Ms. Kowal is an accomplished voice performer and her voice for Toby was wonderful, so I’m willing to believe that these strange voices were chosen because of the faerie theme. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another audiobook performed by Ms. Kowal, and I certainly plan to try her own novel which releases in a few weeks.
In the end, I think Rosemary and Rue stands up pretty well (probably better in print than audio), but it’s nothing particularly exciting. I do plan to try out the next novel, A Local Habitation, purely because my fellow reviewer Kelly has praised it so highly (below).
It’s hard to resist a book that begins with the narrator getting turned into a carp in the Japanese Tea Gardens at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
In Seanan McGuire’s Rosemary and Rue, October Daye is a private investigator who happens to be a changeling as well. A “changeling,” as the term is used in this urban fantasy series, is a child of mixed fairy and human blood. Toby Daye is the child of one of the Daoine Shidhe (according to the helpful pronunciation guide at the front of the book, that’s pronounced “doon-ya shee”) and a human, one of those second-class citizens of Faerie who chose to follow her fairy heritage as soon as she knew there was a difference. Not that she doesn’t live in the “real” world; she does, in San Francisco, to be precise. But San Francisco is also the location of Shadowed Hills, the court of Sylvester Torquill, the fairy lord to whom Toby owes her allegiance. In fact, Toby is a knight of that court, and was working to rescue her liege’s wife and child from a kidnapper when she was turned into a fish — in which state she remained for 14 years.
Rosemary and Rue isn’t about that kidnapping case, though. It is about Toby’s return to active duty some time after she regains her half fairy, half human shape. After 14 years as a fish, she’s quite sure she no longer has any interest in Faerie or in being a PI. She’s getting along — not happy, not even content, but getting along — as a night cashier at a Safeway grocery store. After her return, her husband and child spurned her, refusing to accept any explanations (and she was not allowed by the rules of Faerie to tell them what really happened, so any explanation she offered was a lie anyway). It’s not a good life; in fact, it’s hardly living at all. But Toby doesn’t have the psychological resources to do anything else, at least right now.
Evening, the Duchess of Dreamer’s Glass, gives her no choice, however. Evening curses Toby, almost with her dying breath, to find out who murdered her. Sure enough, Toby finds Evening dead, killed in the most breathtakingly evil way: with iron. Blood magic gives Toby a literal taste of what that death tasted like. Quickly — before the curse can kill her — Toby gets to work.
This story, combining noir mystery and fantasy, is gorgeously written and entertaining. We learn much about Faerie and its place in the modern world, enough so that we can mourn that it seems to be dying. We learn of the strict rules and caste system of Faerie, an ancient system of nobility overlaid with the technology of 21st century America. San Francisco comes alive in McGuire’s pages, its cold fog and its beauty equally alluring and appalling. The weaving of the old and the new, of Faerie and San Francisco, works very well indeed.
October Daye — (2009- ) Publisher: The world of Faerie never disappeared: it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie’s survival — but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born. Half-human, half-fae, outsiders from birth, these second-class children of Faerie spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October “Toby” Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas.The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby is forced to resume her old position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery… before the curse catches up with her.
This book is firmly in my list of best 10 fantasies of 2010. Nuff said.
Interesting. When I tried to read it, I found that while I didn’t really dislike it, I didn’t really like it either. It wasn’t bad, I just found that it didn’t catch me at all. I think what you point out, Kelly, might have been the problem, but I couldn’t put words to it at the time.
Oh I love the world building in this book. Good review. I think I agree with your points (Toby gets hurt a lot and she does more reacting than anything else) but still really want to read the next one.
I have been thinking on getting this book. It sounds as I need to add it to the list to get. Thanks for another great review!
It’s definitely worth reading if you’re an UF fan, and the series shows promise. McGuire’s world leaves room for a lot more plot hooks. You can see some of the possible ones in this first book.
I’m trying to convince myself to continue reading the Discount Armageddon book by Seanan. But I’m having trouble getting into it. Not liking the character much. It’s a library book too so I’ll have to decide soon…
Interesting, I loved Discount Armageddon and the snippy main character, which led me to go back and reread Rosemary and Rue that I couldn’t get into the first time. I just finished the series so far that is out there.
I enjoyed R&R a lot and found it really puzzling that some reviewers disliked the character for “deserting her daughter”. Er — having a fish problem here?
I haven’t given it much of a chance. Maybe 30 pages or 40 tops. There’s a lot of repetitious info–yeah, got it, you’re a dancer and all the stuff about the family…I guess mostly nothing has happened of great interest. The most interesting thing so far has been the mice…
Tizz –I was one of those people. It’s not for deserting her while she was stuck in fish form. Really, I understand that those things can happen to anybody.Read more at FantasyLiterature.com
Yeah, I agree with Marion. Once I got beyond it into the next book I started to enjoy it more and eventually enough back story started to be unpacked that she her reactions became somewhat more understandable.Read more at FantasyLiterature.com
Okay, I must grudgingly admit that Terry and the rest of you are persuading me to give the second book a chance. Terry, thanks for the insight that part of Toby’s annoying behavior in this book stems directly from a profound depression and a sense of depletion of all inner resources. That helps me mitigate my dislike a bit.
I thought Discount Armaggedon was fun, but not as good as the October Daye books — more of a frothy sort of tone, while I prefer the darker mood of Toby’s world.