I was a little disappointed in Rosemary and Rue, the first October Daye novel, but I could see tons of potential there and looked forward to the rest of the series. A Local Habitation blows it out of the water, and blows most of the urban fantasy on the shelves out of the water while it’s at it.
In this installment, Duke Sylvester Torquill asks Toby to check up on his niece, January, who hasn’t been returning Sylvester’s calls. Jan is the countess of a small territory that lies between Sylvester’s and that of a rival duchess, and is also the head of a software company. Toby arrives to find a bigger mess than she expected. Someone is murdering Jan’s employees, one by one. Toby’s mission: to solve the crimes without creating a diplomatic incident. This becomes a nail-biting race against time when the major players all get stranded at Jan’s company campus, essentially locked in with the killer.
Toby is stronger here than she was in Rosemary and Rue, more dynamic, and more resourceful. She spends more time focused on the mystery than on her tragic past. I think there are both narrative and character reasons for this. Story-wise, Seanan McGuire doesn’t need to go over the history again because she got that over with in the first book; character-wise, Toby is getting used to being a PI again. When her past does surface, it’s in subtle little touches, like her fear of being submerged in water.
As for the mystery, there’s one aspect that’s really easy for the reader to solve. This drove me crazy as I was reading, but the morning after finishing the book, a few things clicked in my head and it didn’t bother me anymore. Toby has the best excuse in the world to miss that particular type of clue. That, and I suspect McGuire may have tossed that bone to the reader on purpose. It misdirects us from some other things that are going on. It’s a risky move, but it works.
McGuire’s prose is a lot of fun. She infuses her writing with moments of humor and of lyrical beauty, and has a knack for using them at the right times and in the right amounts so that they never take away from the flow or suspense of the narrative. A few of my favorite passages:
- The humans aren’t stupid, no matter what the purebloods say; they’re just blind, and sometimes, that’s worse. They put their fear in stories and songs, where they won’t forget it. “Up the airy mountains and down the rushy glen, I dare not go a-hunting for fear of little men.” We’ve given them plenty of reasons to fear us. Even if they’ve almost forgotten — even if they only remember that we were beautiful and not why they were afraid — the fear was there before anything else. There were reasons for the burning times; there’s a reason the fairy tales survive. And there’s a reason the human world doesn’t want to see the old days come again.
- Repetition is sometimes the best way to deal with the Luideag: just keep saying the same thing over and over until she gets fed up and gives you what you want. All preschoolers have an instinctive grasp of this concept, but most don’t practice it on immortal water demons. That’s probably why there are so few disembowelments in your average preschool.
I also loved the little lit-geek moments: lots of references to Shakespeare, plus a great couple of paragraphs in which McGuire riffs on “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in almost the same breath.
The suspense, the world-building, the characterization, and the writing combine to make A Local Habitation a standout. I can’t wait for An Artificial Night; I want more Toby, and definitely more Tybalt!