Thursday, February 23, 2012

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and... Rue?

Okay, so the title of the book I'm reviewing is actually taken from Shakespeare's Winter's Tale; I just can't resist cheesy one-liners for title.  What can I say? (Nothing, I have nothing to say for myself). This is one of the authors I caught on to from reading the short story compilation, Home Improvement. And so, for this evening's book review, I turn to Seanan McGuire's Rosemary and Rue.

The Basics
McGuire, Seanan. Rosemary and Rue. New York: DAW Books, 2009. Print.

McGuire was born in California and is the author of the October Daye and the InCryptid fantasy series. She's also a singer-songwriter, and, according to her official bio, has what seems to be an unhealthy propensity for being bitten.  But she also has three cats, so she's super in my book.

Rosemary and Rue is the first novel in the October Daye series of urban fantasies and was McGuire's debut. It's heroine, October "Toby" Daye is a changeling recovering from 14 years spent as a carp and is strongly resisting being pulled back into the realm of Faerie.  After being cursed by an old "friend" into solving said friend's murder, Toby is forced to return to her PI roots to find the killer before the curse kills her. (Duh duhn dunnnn).

The Book
I loved this book.  From the very moment I started reading, I was hooked.  McGuire's prose pulls readers in and doesn't let them go until it's good and well ready to. Told in first person from the perspective of the heroine, McGuire spins a tale both gritty and witty. There's a realism infused in her writing style that is ideal for the genre of urban fantasy; it captivates readers by creating a sense that this could actually be happening out on the streets. (Maybe right now. Maybe... behind you!). If you can suspend your disbelief for just long enough, the story will draw you in and do the rest of the work (and really, what are you doing reading fantasy novels if you can't suspend your disbelief).

I also liked that this novel was firmly situated in the genre of urban fantasy: heavy on the paranormal, light on the romance.  If you pick this book up expecting paranormal romance, you're going to be sadly disappointed.  This is a noirish little mystery. And, while I'll totally be down for Toby to get a little romantic action in the future, I hope that the books stay largely true to this feel.  (Give me early Anita Blake, please, and take your erotica elsewhere). The book is chock full of the Faerie realm, pulling from so many Fae traditions that readers can't get bored; and it's all rooted in modern-day San Francisco.  All the tiny details, McGuire adds about the Fae and their lives, etc adds to the sense that there might be an entire world waiting for readers just around that corner.  Yep, it's awesome.

Toby is great fun as a heroine.  She's cheeky, but intelligently so. She mouths off frequently, but she tempers that with a sense of timing, controlling herself when it's wise to do so.  I really like that balance, since the witty, take-no-prisoners heroine is becoming a commonplace figure.  The balance McGuire strikes with Toby is different from other main characters who often mouth off without thought to the consequences. While this may make them look cool for all of two seconds, I almost always find myself displeased with how they get away with it, breaking my focus on the story.

Nor does Toby have or acquire all the answers easily.  Even if she's supposed to be good at finding answers, she's convincingly off kilter, having been out of the world of Faerie for the last 14 1/2 years. I think I had the mystery figured out slightly ahead of Toby, maybe 3/5 of the way through the book and I was sure, but I think part of that was that the truth was so unpalatable for her.  I'm really excited to pick up the next novel, and look forward to seeing Toby a little more on her game.

While I was researching this book, I noticed that a lot of readers had been disappointed by how much Toby gets tossed around in this book (but how well would you handle a thug shooting at you? Hmmmm.).  But, I liked that Toby isn't much of a fighter; she does what she has to to survive, but mostly relies on her ability to solve problems.  The urban fantasy genre is saturated with heroines that kick butt and take names; it's nice to have one around who relies firmly on her wits.

McGuire has carved out a refreshing little plot of land in the realm of urban fantasy for her series, and I can't wait to immerse myself in it further!

Toby? Are you down there?
  • Here's that official biography I mentioned over on Seanan McGuire's official website, which also features some online fiction she's written.
  • While you're there, check out the Toby Daye FAQ page, if nothing else.
  • In case you're unfamiliar with Golden Gate Park (The De Young Museum and Conservatory of Flowers are awesome, btw), here's a link to the Japanese Tea Gardens, featured so prominently in the book.

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