My primary emotional response to Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire is disappointment. I’ve been told by people whose opinions I respect that she is the quintessential urban fantasy writer. She sets the standard against which other urban fantasies are measured. This may be true for subsequent books, but I’m not seeing all the glory in this one.
Let me talk first about the things I do like, and there are plenty of them. I really like the title, evoking remembrance and bitterness, since to some extent that is the theme of the book. On a line-by-line basis I enjoy much of McGuire’s writing, and a couple of action sequences, like Mister Toad’s Wild Ride the wrong way up a one-way street, are great. McGuire gets most of the details of the San Francisco Bay Area right. The endless hierarchy of the Faerie is well thought out. The idea that the Fae Folk live among us in disguise stays faithful to fairy-and-folktale traditions. Secondary characters like Tybalt, the king of the cats, are well drawn.
Most of the time I like how information is released in this book. With a couple of glaring exceptions McGuire provides enough information to help us navigate the story, without overloading us. Some information serves no purpose in this book and is there to set up future conflicts in subsequent volumes, but that’s okay.
What I didn’t particularly like , in this first October Daye adventure, was the character of October Daye herself. When you don’t like the main character and the main character is also a first-person narrator, that’s a tough hurdle to clear.
October “Tobey” Daye is a changeling, half human and half fae. When the book opens, she is working as a private investigator, happily playing house with her human lover Griffin and their three-year-old daughter Gillian. Tobey is also a knight sworn to the fae lord Sylvester Torquil. Investigating the abduction of Sylvester’s wife and daughter, Tobey runs into an ambush and is trapped by a spell that imprisons her for fourteen mortal years.
When the spell mysteriously ends and releases her, Tobey wallows in self-pity, pursing a twilight existence and avoiding the faerie court – even though she has information Sylvester could definitely use. It appears that she did contact Griffin, but he told her that he and Gillian didn’t want to see her. Despite the fact that one-quarter changeling Gillian may have unusual power and may be in serious dangerous because of her heritage, Tobey does not question or challenge this edict. She gets a job on the night shift at Safeway and lives with two cats.
The brutal murder of Evening Winterose, a powerful faerie noblewoman, drags Tobey back into the world of faerie, especially because Evening laid a geas or curse on Tobey compelling her to solve the murder.
Tobey, in addition to being self-pitying, is not a very good detective. Clues are handed to her rather than her pursuing them. It is obvious to the reader very early in the story who the likely villain is, but Tobey blithely ignores clues that pile up around her. Tobey has a raft of magical friends who want to help her, but it is hard to understand what they see in her. It seems as if many of them are helping her because of some loyalty to Tobey’s mother, Amantine, but this is not explained. In the course of the book, as a result of exposure to a magical artifact, Tobey’s powers begin to grow, so presumably she is going to become more powerful as the series progresses.
Tobey also indulges in a masochistic relationship with a Faganesque character who takes in changelings who have been abandoned by the faerie. This relationship is highly troublesome and calls Tobey’s judgment into question again.
One of the smaller, but more baffling puzzles of Tobey’s behavior surrounds her relationship with Griffin. Tobey has memories of fun human times with her mother when her mother was “playing faerie bride.” Tobey’s human father is named once; he never shows up in the book. Tobey ruminates on the fact that some fae folk distrust her mother (who is still alive and well in faerie-land,) because she did play faerie bride – yet that distrust does not extend to Tobey, who did exactly the same thing. Tobey never contemplates these inconsistencies.
The mystery is too easy and Tobey does not have to work to solve it, although she does get into some great fights. At the end of the book she has acquired a third pet, a rose goblin, that is pretty cute.
So; as a detective, Tobey is not perceptive; as a mother she is unprotective; as a person she is passive and self-pitying. I don’t see why I would want to follow this person’s adventures without a pretty good guarantee that she is going to grow.
The book is not terrible, but I really don’t understand what people are responding to when they say McGuire is the queen of this subgenre. The faerie world has been handled just as well in the old Emma Bull book War for the Oaks, and in Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books. I have to wonder, what am I missing?