Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire is the first novel in the October Daye urban fantasy series. It was first released in 2009, I read the DAW paperback edition with cover art by Chris McGrath. April is a busy month for a lot of reasons and I have been running into articles, blogs, and media highlighting the author, so I figured this was a good novel to read in between denser, meatier books.
The main character is October Daye. She is considered a changeling, which is the term used for the offspring of pureblood Fae and human parents. One of the things that is attractive about this novel (and, presumably, the series it begins) is that it is about Fae/Fairies/Faerie. I am under the impression that urban fantasy novels are heavily focused on creatures such as: werewolves, zombies, and vampires. So, reading a novel in this subgenre that does not involve the usual suspects seemed a bit more interesting. To her credit, the author does build up a world of Fae in which it does seem to matter that these are Fae and not some other mythical being.
The fact is: with urban fantasy there is a very obvious paradigm that gets followed. The inhuman world is structured nearby or parallel to the human world. There is magic, which generally we learn about practically, but never theoretically. By this I mean, the reader learns that magic operates because the characters use it. However, the novels never really seem to take this activity beyond that superficial level. Characters are magic users or they are not. As a comparison, so-called Epic Fantasy novels tend to flesh out their magic concepts a bit more. By not developing the concept at all, it tends to make all the urban fantasy novels seem similar, making magic just a stock element of all stories. Further, the majority of inhuman societies are always feudal or medieval or courtly. I do not know if this is some holdover from authors/readers attending too many Renaissance Fairs or having romantic ideals, but I find it too common and obvious in this subgenre. Finally, urban fantasy seems to really want to meld with the noir detective novel. A lot.
Rosemary and Rue is no different, in many ways, from all the other urban fantasy I have read. I mean, the setting, plot, and main character is very similar to what I have read before. This is no great literature – however, the story was entertaining and comfortably distracting from daily stressors. In other words, this will read like all other urban fantasy, more or less. And, I suspect, readers will enjoy this one just as they enjoy other urban fantasy novels, more or less.
That is not to say I do not appreciate some things in this novel. As I mentioned above, the usage of the Fae mythology is relatively unique. But also the author seems to have woven a few interesting threads of Shakespeare and his mythos into this series. That is fun and I liked it. Another key thing is the prologue of the novel is a rather unique way to introduce readers to the character and setting; I was surprised by it!
As a main character, October Daye, or Toby, manifests all the usual personality traits readers have come to know and love. Their actual life is a messy struggle. They are aloof, sullen, snarky, and/or impatient. They think they are more independent than they are, but yet are constantly seeking assistance from people. I liked October well enough, she struck me as an honest personality…..even though in the beginning she really did seem to be trying too hard to be too snarky. (The best example of forced snark, for me, is Ben Aaronovitch’s series.) However, I have to tell you, I did laugh at a couple of her lines…….. like I said: entertaining!
Still, the villain is probably quite obvious from the start – although the author really does try to give us a nice selection of options to pick from. The reason the villain is so obvious, though, is that they are also a yucky character. So, even if they were not the villain, they are still the yuckiest in the novel. The end scenes are also very stereotypical and standard “end of story” scenes. Almost so much so that it was ridiculous. I could have written out what was about to happen next. Anyway, the scenario is resolved. Unlike a lot of fiction these days, I really appreciated the closure that this novel gives. No loose ends, no mysterious groan-worthy hangers-on, no sickening setups for future novels in the series. I have to give props to the author for ending the novel tightly.
For fans of Grimm tv series, urban fantasy readers, fans of the Faerie realm.