Rosemary and Rue is the first of Seanan McGuire’s “October Daye” series of urban fantasy novels. This “tenth anniversary” edition also contains an extra short story, set prior to the events of the main text (but placed after it in the book!).
So lets talk about October Daye, and her story, and why we care. In a world where the realm of fairies sits alongside our own, where you can step between the two words if the time is right, and where(at least some) fae have a strong interest in what’s going on in our world, October is half human, half fae. But that’s not necessarily something to be proud of. October has a little magic – just enough to get her into trouble – but she’s no world-shattering mage. She makes up for it with wits, guile, stubbornness, and some interesting friends. Because October isn’t a typical heroine, filled with martial arts derring do and high ideals. October is middle aged, and tired. October is utterly unwilling to take anyone’s shit. And October really just wants to be left alone, to fall down a well of loathing for her last failure and struggle with what feels like a nasty case of PTSD. But the universe has other plans. It’s great to see a female protagonist who has a career, carries her own crises and owns her own crap. No great sorcery here, but a private investigator under stress, unsure of her own direction, but competent and uncompromising. October Daye is a wonderful breath of air in a market crowded with leather-clad teen arse-kickers. She’s a skilled, competent adult who still makes mistakes, and owns to them, but isn’t defined by them. An incisive mind is backed with a no-nonsense ability to take action. I’ve got a lot of time for October, a complicated, thoughtful woman with courage and convictions - and some cracking investigative skills.
October operates inside San Francisco, and McGuire’s sinuously smooth prose brings the Bay to life. It’s a city of fog and invisible boundaries, filled with people living their lives to the full, and in the shadows. The city flickers between night and day, light and shadow, and you can almost taste the tang of ocean air travelling down alleyways and through run-down apartment windows. And the atmosphere, the crackle and vitality, is as much on display in the realms of the fae From dark, mysterious halls to golden forests, there’s a vividly imagined world at play here. It’s well-drawn, and imaginatively realised – and you’ll feel like you’re there on the beaches of San Francisco, and in the strange mansions of the fae.
I shan’t spoil the story, but suffice it to say that it has everything a good mystery needs. There’s intrigue. Crosses. Double crosses. Sudden reversals. Murders. The central mystery is clever, and though I managed to guess a few of the twists and turns, there were always more around the corner. This is a very personal story, a character driven story, October’s story. It has an emotional truth and weight to it that makes it feel real. That it’s also a cracking murder mystery is a bonus.
The prequel story included has a lot of similar traits – and it’s interesting to see a younger, less cynical, less tired October walking toward her own future. Quite what’s going to happen in bth cases remains a mystery – and one that kept me turning pages well past bedtime.
Is it good? Yes. It’s a great start to a series, filled with complex characters one can sympathise (or at least empathise with), in a believable yet strange world with a story that grabs hold and won’t let go.
Looking for a new urban fantasy? Give Rosemary and Rue a try!