In Retro Review: Rosemary and Rue

An enjoyable urban fantasy that doesn't drown the reader in lore, instead choosing to create a highly entertaining mystery.

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Published by DAW, August 29, 2009. Paperback of 368 pages at $7.99.

The cover: October “Toby” Daye stands near an imposing gate flashing the stink eye at the reader. Perhaps this is due to some police tape before her that she shouldn’t cross. The wind is blowing quite well, revealing that her ears are pointed. Toby is wearing a black leather jacket that makes her look badass. This looks to be an urban fantasy about a badass elf solving crime. Chris McGrath is the cover artist and it was because of his illustration that I flipped the book over to learn more about it. Overall grade: A 

The premise: From the back cover, “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 a 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.” The main character is drawn back into the fantasy world to solve a murder, and her birth makes her an outsider to those that aren’t human. I’m in! I enjoy the Dresden novels, so I’m hoping I get some of that type of feel in this book. Also helping is that this is the first book in a series of October Daye novels, so that’s a plus in reading. Overall grade: A

The characters: Toby Daye is a terrific character. She’s not thrilled with her place in the world and just wants to live her life, as far from the fae and humanity as she can, but she’s dragged back to the fae and there’s nothing she can do to stop it. She’s tough, but not a superhuman, and she’s incredibly smart in the classic gumshoe mode, without becoming a cliché. Her mind was completely open to the reader, as the story is told from her point of view, and the reader gets to experience events as she does. She’s loyal to a flaw and I liked that quality in her. Tybalt is a Cait Sidhe and he was a wonderful recurring character who is pureblood, which makes him thinks less of Toby, but stands by his word. Sylvester and Luna Torquill are the generous rulers of Shadowed Hills, but their feelings toward Toby could be hiding something else. The Queen of the Mists, who rules over the fae, was seen too briefly, but was an engaging character whose actions, as well as others’ opinions of her, made her memorable. Devin is a Fagin-like changeling who cares for the discarded half-breeds and once tutored Toby, in more than one way. His desire to help the protagonist may be more personal than she knows. There are moments when each of these allies come to be doubted by Toby in her quest to discover the murderer and there are several supernatural characters that cause her trouble and injury as they seek to stop her. Given the number of characters introduced in this novel, author McGuire fleshes them out finely, making me wish to visit them all again. Overall grade: A

The settings: San Francisco is the human world that Toby lives in and serves as a good backdrop to this story. The weather is often cold and damp, with the fog appearing to hide inhuman creatures. The fae world is really well done, with the secret entrances to them hidden in some San Fran’s more famous areas. McGuire balanced both worlds well and, as with the characters, I would love to revisit them in another book. Overall grade: A

The action: One of Toby’s abilities as a changeling is that she work blood magic: tasting the blood of another, she can see their past. This is incredibly helpful when used for the recently killed and creates tension every time she uses this skill. When tracking down the killer, Toby cannot catch a break, attacked by monsters and thugs that seek to impede her quest. Nothing that was done was over the top in scale, as each antagonist was determined only to stop her and not destroy the world. The action is very much old school, with villains popping out of the darkness to rend or shoot her. Overall grade: A

The conclusion: The villain is revealed, there is a confrontation, and all is resolved with this case. I was so satisfied with this ending, I went online to see how many other adventures there are involving October, because I want more. Overall grade: A

The final line: I’m so happy I picked this up in my local book store. This was an enjoyable urban fantasy that doesn’t drown the reader in lore, instead choosing to create a highly entertaining mystery. I also enjoyed that she wasn’t as sarcastic as other urban fantasy novels; this set her apart from others’ books and I really appreciated that. As I stated in the conclusion, I want more and I’m glad there are nine more, so far. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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