Title: Rosemary and Rue
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Paperback: 368 pages
Stand Alone or Series: First in the October Daye series
Why did we read the book: We first learned about the book via LurvaLaMode and added it to our respective wishlists, so when the author generously offered us a review copy, we said HELL YES (please)!
Summary: (from amazon.com)
The world of Faerie never disappeared: it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie’s survival—but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born. Half-human, half-fae, outsiders from birth, these second-class children of Faerie spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October “Toby” Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas.
The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby is forced to resume her old position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery…before the curse catches up with her.
Thea: I was really looking forward to reading Rosemary and Rue (so much so that Ana and I fought over the copy we had, but of course since she lives in the UK and I am here in the US, I gave in and sent her my copy and bought another for myself), and I am happy to say that it lived up to and even surpassed my expectations. There are a lot of female sleuth Urban Fantasy novels out there, and October Daye is another supernatural creature to add to the ever-growing pantheon. Ms. McGuire, however, manages to create a very unique character in a stunningly detailed, harsh world of faerie that coexists with our own. I definitely enjoyed this book and will be back to this eerie version of San Francisco very soon.
Ana: This book had been calling to me since I first saw the cover and the title. I don’t read a lot of Urban Fantasy – it is one of the genres that I am slowly getting into – and have little basis for comparison within the genre but I thought Rosemary and Rue to be a book that stands on its own. Regardless of which genre it belongs to, Rosemary and Rue is simply a good story, with great characters and above all, a fantastically entertaining world in which to submerge myself for a few hours. I can hardly believe that this is Seanan’s McGuire’s debut work and I enjoyed it so much that am ready for more. Like, right now.
On The Plot:
Thea: In terms of world building and the urban fantasy element, Rosemary and Rue shines. My favorite aspect of this debut novel is the setting itself – Ms. McGuire juxtaposes a world of fae courts and magic, unseen by humans in the city of San Francisco. And the fae aren’t just your usual devilish pixies, winter queens or rowan men, either; Toby’s world is populated by Selkies, Undines, the Daoine Sidhe and Cait Sidhe. There are rose goblins and kelpies, doppelgangers and kitsune – and the variation is a wonderful thing to behold. Ms. McGuire clearly has done some research into the mythology of the fae from not only western Europe, but other parts of the world as well (I loved the occasional Japanese influence). But the defining characteristic of the fae in Rosemary and Rue was the dichotomy between purebloods and those with human in their lineage, aka changelings, such as Toby herself. The changelings are sneered at by their pureblood “betters” for their inferiority in magic and their shorter life spans. On the supernatural totem pole, changelings are firmly at the bottom – and this hierarchy colors the plot of this novel. As a lowly changeling, Toby is bound by a curse to solve the murder of her pureblooded friend/enemy, Evening, and she will die unless she discovers the answers the curse demands. But when Toby turns to the other fae for help, she runs into trouble on all fronts. With the Queen of her Evening’s court, Toby is rejected. And, when the attempts on her life start to roll in, Toby’s lack of powers and lack of importance as a mere changeling make things even harder for her.
While I loved the worldbuilding and the wide variation of magic and fae, as well as the power politics of blood in the novel, there were some problems in terms of writing. This is Ms. McGuire’s first novel, and at times it reads like a debut novel – there’s uneveness in the plotting, especially in terms of pacing. For the first half of the book there’s not too much action, but around the midway mark, it suddenly turns into gunshots and blood loss, with multiple attacks and near-death experiences for poor battered Toby. Also, there’s the problem of the overall mystery – that is, finding Evening’s killer before her curse kills Toby (or something else does). Toby pretty much reacts for the whole novel. She goes from scene to scene looking for clues, only to basically find nothing (other than hired guns, out to kill her). But, then miraculously by a conversation with one all-knowing character, Toby discovers the identity of the bad guy in this tale. It kinda renders all the other action as simple noise and the mystery as a vehicle for suspense without any of the real sleuthing work that goes into it. To be fair, this is a problem I have with a lot of Urban Fantasy novels of the mystery/thriller persuasion.
With that said, however, there are many unresolved plot threads that are expertly handled in Rosemary and Rue that will definitely keep me reading the series. I love that Ms. McGuire isn’t afraid to leave some questions hanging – especially with the original mystery of Toby’s transformation and just what exactly happened to her Liege Luna and her daughter Raysel. Plus, there’s the intriguing character of Tybalt and his feelings for Toby that are irresistible, but more on that in a bit…
Ana The first chapter of Rosemary and Rue sets the tone for the rest of the novel not only in terms of world building and presenting the main character but above all by showing how much is at stake and how the author is prepared to put her character through the ringer. The books opens as October Dayer suffers a horrible fate – she is transformed into a FISH. For 14 years. How seriously twisted is that? Obviously, I loved it. That transformation will change her life and change her stance to the point that 14 years later, when the curse is broken, she is a shadow of the woman she was. THAT is the most important thing for me and one that was imperative for the understanding of the character’s motivations with regards to the main storyline: that and the curse that makes her go back to the world she had been trying to avoid, only to discover who Evening’s killer is.
The curse makes it imperative for her to carry on with the investigation against her own will. I think that explains why Toby REACTS instead of doing any real sleuth work but unlike Thea, I didn’t think this was a problem, I thought it was a reasonable reaction from a character that did not want to be there. But that is just me as a reader who thinks character trumps plot (most of the time, at least). Having said that, it may well be that my interpretation is off-base and it remains to be seen in the next novels if the sleuthing work will well, be done and acted upon.
Although, the mystery is the central storyline of Rosemary and Rue, it is all the secondary threads that are woven (flawlessly in my opinion) that make the book a fascinating read. The courts’ politics, the interaction between all the species of Faeries, the showcasing of several mythologies , they were not particularly NEW to me but there was something about Seanan McGuire’s writing that MADE it feel so. It is quite possible that the conjunction of all the different beings coupled with the unique spin to the changelings (that, a refreshing and original concept by the author) is what makes the story so riveting.
I though this to be a well- crafted, well written story with hardly any bumps along the way and as Thea said the best thing was that there is a lot left to be explored without feeling like it was so merely as sequel bait.
On the Characters:
Thea: Poor, poor Toby. This is something I found myself thinking for most of the book. The prologue begins with Toby on the trail of a faerie named Simon, who has kidnapped her Liege Luna and Luna’s daughter Rayseline – and, completely outclassed in the magic department, Toby is transformed into a koi in the San Francisco Tea Gardens. For fourteen years. Things only get worse from there. Once she’s returned to her true form, Toby’s lost her human husband and now-teenage daughter, not to mention her home, her job and her life. And then when things can’t get worse, she’s bound by a dead friend via answering machine, cursed to solve the case of Eve’s murder or die in the process. Add in multiple gunshot wounds and near-fatal encounters with some nasty fae monsters, and the mental refrain of “Poor Toby!” is on solid repeat. I should clarify – none of this is bad! In fact, it’s refreshing. Toby pays bitterly for every action she takes (or doesn’t take), and for everything she goes through she’s certainly no whiney martyr – in fact, she’s an incredibly endearing character that readers sympathize with completely.
I loved that Toby was a severly UNDERpowered character – she has no significant magical skills, and she doesn’t gain any extraordinary fae powers over the course of the book. Rather, she’s very low in the magical social hierarchy and she not only knows it, but she owns it. These characters are so much more interesting than the super!mage!masters (who are inevitably beautiful and faerie princesses on top of their limitless powers) – and Toby is one of the most compelling new heroines I’ve read in a very long time because of her decision to rock out with her thinned out bloodline.
While Toby is the undeniable main draw to the book, there are a bevy of other secondary characters that are solidly written too. Some of my favorites included the tough street fae twins, Dare and Manuel, and their growing relationship with Toby from initial distrust to gradual awe. There’s of course the old flame, Devin, the master of changeling runaways with his twisted games and kingdom of Home (think a magic, better looking Fagin). Then, there’s they undine and good friend to Toby, Lily, who is beautiful and protective of the changeling. But, my favorite secondary character has to be the King of Cats, the Caith Sidhe Tybalt. According to Toby’s narrative, he hates her and it is his purpose as a pureblood to make her life miserable…but we readers know better than that. There’s something else there, on the other side of the thin line between hate and love. At least, that’s my personal hope as a reader! I loved Tybalt’s appearances in the novel, and the way he and Toby come to an agreement when she needs his help. Absolutely wonderful stuff.
Ana: Poor Toby indeed, Thea, I completely agree with you. The woman goes through so much and as a reader who enjoys character-driven books, I was a happy camper because the events shape and are shaped by her. I mostly loved that she was strong willed and courageous without being too stupid to live and knew when to ask for help. As a character she knew her limitations and was simply aware of what she could or could not do. I also quite liked her sense of humour which is subtle enough to not be an in-your-face kind a humour, instead it relies on the reader to “get” her ironic innuendoes.
The only thing I wondered about was I what I felt was a lack of true attachment to the guy who was her fiancée – although it could be easily argued that this is the point – she was what is called a Faerie Bride, someone who finds a human to get married to, to try to live as a human when they are fully aware that the attachment has to rely on lies and can never last for more than a few years. A Faerie Bride is someone who is wholly selfish and perhaps that makes Toby a little less sympathetic but perhaps more real because she is not perfect.
Thea covered most of the secondary characters and there is one that I really liked as well: her liege and friend the Duke, Sylvester. Him and his family including his son-in-law Connor ( Toby’s potential love interest. I can’t stand the guy) have a very interesting dynamics.
Lastly but not least: oh, Tybalt, let me count the ways my poor deluded hopelessly romantic heart is already shipping you with Toby. Even though you try to hide your feelings, I know, deep down you so totally love the woman. You may try to deny it and cover it up with the hatred and contempt that most purebloods feel for the changelings but you do not fool me, Tybalt. And you know why not? Because there is this one tiny, small detail that was mentioned very en passant by someone else in the book: that the Caith Sidhe have loads of lovers but once they truly love it is forevah. Yeah, I know that probably my heart is set to be broken into several million pieces because this is an UF series which showed no sign so far that it’s going to be heavy with romantic elements. But Tybalt, I remain hopeful. Yours truly, meow, Ana.
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: I really, really enjoyed this wonderful debut novel from Seanan McGuire. Though it’s not without its flaws, it’s a beautiful foray into the world of the fae, where humans live side by side with unspeakable creatures of monstrous beauty and magic. October Daye is a heroine worth rooting for, and I cannot wait for the next novel in the series. Absolutely recommended, and one of my picks for notable read of 2009.
Ana: I simply loved this book. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like it. I started the review expecting to rate it Very Good, but managed to convince myself whist writing it that this rather, a truly Excellent novel and the series has the potential to be one of the Great Ones. I devoured it, I rooted for the main character and I think this is certainly one of the best debuts I read this year.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: Official excerpt from the author’s website:
I woke up just after sundown with a pounding head and the vague, nagging feeling that something was wrong. Cagney and Lacey had somehow managed to open the bedroom door while I was sleeping, and had migrated from the couch to the warmer and hence more desirable bed. They started to wail as soon as they realized I was awake, Siamese voices vibrating my head like buzz saws. I groaned, clapping my hands over my ears. “Can’t you two be quiet?” They didn’t oblige me. Cats never listen. They’re dependable that way; when Rome burned, the Emperor’s cats still expected to be fed on time.
The fae have always lived with cats. They’re the only mortal animals that can stand to have us around, and that holds true for all of us, even half-breeds like me. Dogs bark and horses shy away, but cats can look at Kings, and a lot of the time, they do. Cats put up with us, and in exchange, we treat them with respect, and we feed them. We’re related in a way, and I don’t just mean through the Cait Sidhe. We both tend towards pointed ears, stealing cream, and getting burned alive when the wind changes. It was only natural that we’d form an alliance where both sides said “I don’t need you” and both answered “you’ll still stay.”
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: The next two books in the series already have covers and publication dates: A Local Habitation comes out March 2010 and An Artificial Night comes out in September 2010:
The interesting thing is, as we recently learned via this awesome interview with the author over at Lurv that the three titles refer to Shakespeare’s plays and are “influenced to one degree or another, by the play the titles come from”. Rosemary and Rue takes its title from A Winter’s Tale, A Local Habitation from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and An Artificial Night from Romeo and Juliet. In the interview, she explains the significance of each of them to the story (very light spoilers) and we totally recommend you check it out.
Ana: a solid 8 – Excellent
Thea: 7 Very Good – leaning towards an 8.
Reading Next: The Orphan’s Tales – In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente