Seanan McGuire

October Daye Book 1

DAW (2009)

ISBN: 978-0756405717

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

October “Toby” Daye is living a lie. She may be a Changeling and Faery Knight, but she also has a human partner and child who don’t even know what she looks like beneath her glamour. One fateful night, while hunting for her liege lord’s missing family, she is captured and bespelled – and loses fourteen years.

When you’re the mother of a two-year-old, it’s tough to lose fourteen years.

This is probably one of the best combinations of faerie lore and detective noir fiction I’ve read in some time. The worldbuilding and the shifting between one world and another were done very cleverly, and I liked the way that the faeries had integrated into modern culture, so that all manner of parks, buildings and restaurants throughout the city were Official Territory. I also liked the fact that romance wasn’t a priority as it so often is in this kind of urban fantasy. Toby has her share of romantic and sexual baggage, but there was no obvious Mr Right (or even Mr Right Now) flagged in this first volume, which gave us plenty of time to focus on the more interesting relationships.

Speaking of baggage, the first few chapters of this book were pretty challenging. I love reading about older characters rather than teenyboppers, particularly with female protagonists, but the downside of this is the sheer weight of backstory you have to insert before you can get started with the story, and Rosemary and Rue suffered a bit from this, with a huge amount of information having to be conveyed from the start, and a couple of major time shifts. It was worth persevering, though, and the action flowed much better from the point of The Death That Starts The Proper Plot (sez the crime reader in me).

What I did find hard to take was the unrelenting grimness of the story. As a mother of two young girls, Toby’s loss of fourteen years of Gillian’s life was a punch to the gut, and because Toby’s recovery and her family’s abandonment of her happens offscreen, I simply couldn’t believe in it. I wonder if this is unconscious sexism on my part – if Toby was male, I might be more inclined to believe his fiancee and daughter would assume he had run out on them. Maybe I’m also making some unfair assumptions considering that Toby isn’t actually human. But I just couldn’t buy that Gillian and her Dad weren’t willing to even speak to Toby, or that she wasn’t camped out on their doorstep forcing them to listen to her. The tragedy of the loss of her daughter just overwhelmed everything for me, and while it was partially addressed in this volume, there wasn’t enough of it to please me! Which means I’m gonna have to keep reading, doesn’t it…

The grimness continues in other aspects of the story, with Toby very much a damaged and broken lone wolf, out to avenge the death of one of the few friends she has left, beaten and emotionally savaged at every turn. I liked very much the use of a dark, violent spell to compel Toby to solve the crime – indeed, all of the magic came across beautifully, as a harsh and very alien system. I very much liked the unromanticised and at times utterly grotesque use of blood magic, which is not something that should ever be pretty. There is a great deal of visual detail and luscious imagery in the story, which helps lift it out of the Overwhelming Misery that is Toby’s existence. Noir, oh yes. So very noir. Everyone in the book is deeply unhappy for one reason or another – I do hope that the clouds lift a little in future volumes!

The darkness of the story actually reminded me a lot of Marianne de Pierres’ Parrish Plessis trilogy – sure, one is American urban fantasy and the other Australian cyberpunk, but the harshness of the landscapes and the battle-ready, battered female protagonists makes them true literary comrades. Rosemary and Rue and the rest of the October Daye series may not appeal to the urban fantasy readers who like their sexy magical creatures to be banterific and uncomplicated. Those who appreciate the darker crime novels that are the root of this genre, however, and are looking for a more grown up, hardboiled example of this genre, should definitely check out Rosemary and Rue.