“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!)