Book Review: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire (Series, #1)
October (Toby) Daye is a changeling — she’s half fae and half human. Half Daoine Sidhe to be exact. She has just enough fae features to not fit into the human world, but her magic is just weak enough to keep her from fitting into fae either. Toby was splitting the difference quite well, serving her fae liege as a private detective and living a semi-normal human life with her human husband. But when a bad fae turns her into a fish on a mission for her liege, and it takes fourteen years to be turned back, everything changes. Toby loses her family and her desires to have any ties to the fae world, but the fae world won’t let her be for long. A high-ranking fae who was also her friend turns up dead, killed by iron, and a curse means that Toby must investigate.
Interestingly enough, one of the later books in this series was recommended to me by an automatic readalike generator (whose name I know forget) as a readalike for Fudoki (review) a book set in historic Japan about a cat turned into a woman warrior. I was intrigued by the series, although I wasn’t certain of the connection to Fudoki, and so I put the first book on my wishlist. My future mother-in-law was kind enough to gift it to me during the height of my cabin fever during Boston’s historic winter this year. This book hits all the right tones for urban fantasy: a strong yet wounded heroine, a complex mystical world operating parallel to and sometimes overlapping with our own, a single book mystery for the heroine to figure out, and an overarching mystery that leaves the reader wanting to come back for more.
The book takes a little bit to get set up. There’s a flashback to before Toby was a fish then the book pops quickly forward to the (near) present when Toby escapes being a fish. It at first struck me as a bit of an odd beginning, but by the end of the book I was loving it. The fact that Toby has a 14 year gap means that there are elements about her world she has to learn or relearn, meaning when key parts of information need to be told to the reader, it comes across as natural that Toby will need to learn about it or remember it. She did have those 14 years away, after all. It’s a plot-telling device, but it’s smart. It also isn’t forgotten when it comes to Toby’s character. The fact that she lost her family and all those years deeply impact her psyche, and that’s as it should be. It helps automatically make her a more well-rounded character.
Halfings are common in urban fantasy, but the ones in this universe are particularly well-done, mostly because there’s just so many of them. Toby isn’t an anomaly, halflings are a constant, persistent problem for the fae to have to deal with. They don’t quite fit into fae, but they also can’t just banish them for the humans to deal with. The humans don’t even know they exist, in fact, most humans who do mate with fae never even know that they did. While some fae are open to and embrace the halflings, others are not. Similarly, some halflings will give anything to just fit into fae or into the human world, while others are comfortable living partly in each. The fact that there are so many halflings allows for a lot of diversity and keeps Toby from looking like a marked heroine. She is just one of many, dealing as she can. I appreciate the everywoman aspect this lends her.
Toby is also extremely likeable. She’s down-to-earth and matter-of-fact about everything. She has many quotes that sound like an average person talking but contain a kernel of wisdom. She’s a humble smart woman who maybe doesn’t realize just how much savvy she does have.
That’s the true value in wards; not keeping things out, but telling you if something’s managed to get in. (loc 537)
It can’t all be dreams because a broken dream will kill you as surely as a nightmare will, and with a lot less mercy. At least the nightmares don’t smile while they take you down. (loc 2428)
The fae world is incredibly complex and yet makes a lot of sense. There are many different types of fae, and they are smoothly introduced. My personal favorite are the Caid Sidhe. They are surely the reason this book was recommended due to my loving Fudoki. The Caid Sidhe are fae who shapeshift into cats, and even in bipedal form have some cat-like features and abilities. The king of the cats has a bit of a love/hate relationship with Toby that is fun to see. But also, fae cats. How is that not fun? Realistically, though, I wouldn’t have loved seeing the Caid Sidhe so much if there hadn’t been such a variety of fae. It’s a richly imagined world that is really fun to visit.
The mystery is good, with Toby investigating a murder. There were plenty of plot-twists, although I did guess the responsible party far in advance of the ending, which was a bit of a bummer. I also must say that I’m not really a fan of heroines getting wounded within an inch of their life only to be saved by magic repeatedly. It removes some of the sense of danger for me. I did appreciate that for once there was an urban fantasy heroine who was never threatened with rape. That was a nice change of pace. I’ll take forcibly changed into a fish over that any day.
Overall, this book sets up the incredibly complex fae world of the series, as well as establishes the heroine’s character and background quite well. Readers will easily fall into the incredibly imaginative world that Toby partially lives in that runs parallel to and sometimes hand-in-hand with our own. Some readers may find the mystery a bit predictable, but this is an excellent first entry in an urban fantasy series that will leave the reader eager to pick up the next and go back to this rich world as soon as possible.
4 out of 5 stars