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.