October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…
The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.
Rosemary and Rue is the first book in the ongoing October Daye series — and as the first book, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do, in terms of establishing characters, building a world, and setting up the rules of the supernatural system that dictates the possibilities of plot from the starting point onward. Fortunately, Seanan McGuire is supremely talented and inventive, and in Rosemary and Rue, she’s more than up to the challenge of creating a world we’ll want to stay in.
Set in and around San Francisco, R&R starts with a pretty ominous set-up for Toby (October) in the prologue. While chasing her liege lord’s enemy (who’s also his twin brother), Toby walks into a trap and loses the next fourteen years of her life. I won’t say why or how — it’s just too much fun to find out for yourself.
We re-meet Toby in chapter one after she’s returned to a version of her former life, having sworn off anything to do with the world of the fae, determined to live as simply human and ignore the other half of her changeling identity. She’s been burned too badly and has lost far too much to be able to stomach the idea of returning to the intricate systems of fae courts and allegiances and territories. But Evening’s murder sucks her back in against her will, and soon enough Toby is brought face to face with old allies, lovers, and enemies. Her own life is on the line as she tries to solve the murder. If she fails, Evening’s dying curse will take Toby’s life as well.
The plot of R&R follows Toby’s search for clues and her reinvolvement with characters from her past, some well-meaning, some clearly not. As a changeling, Toby’s magical abilities are only so-so, and each time she engages with a pureblood, she’s at risk. As you’d expect in an urban fantasy series, Toby is a smart-ass, tough woman with her own set of abilities, not least a talent for thinking on her feet, reading a room, and figuring out how to get what she wants. Still, she has vulnerabilities too, both physical and emotional, and she certainly suffers throughout the book as all sorts of baddies are out to get her and stop her investigation.
I love Toby as a character, and love the odd assortment of changelings and purebloods we meet along the way. Also excellent is the use of San Francisco as a setting. While some of the location descriptions didn’t quite gel with the reality of the area, others (such as the use of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park) are just brilliant.
I have to give a shout-out to the most endearing and adorable magical creature in the book, a “rose goblin” named Spike. Picture a cat with thorns instead of fur, and you have the basic idea. Just loved it.
I did wish that Toby’s backstory was spelled out in a little more concrete detail. As with many urban fantasy stories, we start in the middle of the action and learn about Toby’s difficult past through various references as we go along. It’s enough to give a general timeline, but I still have questions. What does it mean that she’s a knight? What was the process to become one? How did she first join Sylvester’s court? Maybe future volumes in the series will provide more specifics.
Even thought the solution to the murder wasn’t that difficult to guess, I still enjoyed the revelations, Toby’s realizations about the various people in her life, and the reasons behind the events. The plot is fast-paced and exciting, and I enjoyed the adventure start to finish.
Narrator Mary Robinette Kowal brings her talents to the variety of characters, with accents and intonations and pitches that distinguish them and make it easy to identify the speaker at any given point — not always easy in audiobooks. As with the Indexing books, she does a great job of making the story flow, and I enjoyed her depiction of Toby’s inner life.
Rosemary and Rue was really a fun listen, and I’m planning on diving right in with book #2.
Note: Woo hoo! I’ve started another series from my reading goals list for 2018!
Title: Rosemary and Rue
Author: Seanan McGuire
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: DAW Books
Publication date: September 1, 2009
Length (print): 346 pages
Length (audiobook): 11 hours, 20 minutes
Genre: Urban fantasy