Rosemary and Rue: Lots of pain

fantasy book review Seanan McGuire October Daye 1. Rosemary and Rue 2. A Local Habitation 3. An Artificial Nighturban fantasy book reviews Seanan McGuire October Daye 1. Rosemary and RueRosemary 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!)

~Kelly Lasiter

urban fantasy book reviews Seanan McGuire October Daye 1. Rosemary and RueOctober (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).

~Kat Hooper

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

View all posts by Kelly Lasiter


  1. This book is firmly in my list of best 10 fantasies of 2010. Nuff said.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

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