Michelle Dockrey's Reviews > Rosemary and Rue

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
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's review
Apr 24, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites
Recommended to Michelle by: Seanan McGuire
Recommended for: EVERYONE
Read in May, 2008 , read count: too many to count

Full disclosure: this review may be doubly biased; not only is the author one of my best friends, but I'm in the proofing pool. I'm in an unusual position. I've had the privilege of watching this book and this series grow over drafts and years, from an unruly child into a beaming graduate. If authors are essentially releasing their children out into the world to make it on their own, I feel like I'm part of the proud family that's watched them grow up, or at least perhaps one of its well-loved teachers. (If that isn't pushing the metaphor too far.) Anyway, that might make me biased, but it also gives me a perspective that reviewers reading it for the first time might not get.

From the very first draft I ever read (two years ago? three? it predates my current email client so I can't look it up), Rosemary and Rue hooked me. Hard. Every time a new flip came, I reread faithfully from the beginning-- you have to, to do a good proofing job, because things change throughout-- and every time, it hooked me just as hard. I spent hours not particularly noticing if anyone spoke to me, I neglected my poor roommate shamelessly, because I was absolutely absorbed.

In fact, this has happened with every book in the series so far. Seanan recently asked the proofing pool to suggest excerpts from An Artificial Night (book 3) to go in the back of A Local Habitation (book 2). Going back through my file, I really did mean to just skim the book for sections to suggest. I wound up reading for about an hour, completely oblivious, pulling myself out of it to get some work done, and then diving back in for another hour or two. I got completely and willingly lost in a book I'd already read from beginning to end dozens of times. That should tell you something right there.

Rosemary and Rue is the first book in a long series, but each book is a complete story. Seanan skillfully combines satisfying endings in each book with the hints and pieces of an overarching story arc that left me craving the next book like an addict, but didn't leave me dangling with cliffhangers. Again, my proofer perspective makes my review a little different; Seanan doesn't deliberately spoiler us, but she'll tell me what the clues point to, if I ask. And again, this just highlights her mastery: you see, if it isn't braggin too much to say this, I know what's coming. I don't know everything that's coming, of course, but I know a lot; I know some things that won't be revealed until, oh, book six or so. And you know what? I'm still dying to read each book as she writes it. They're that well-crafted, that full of things that draw me into Toby's world and make me want to stay; I don't just want to know what happens next, I want to know how; I want to know what it's going to look and feel and taste like. With these books, it's not just the gripping plot; getting there really is half the fun.

So just what does draw me in?

One thing that hooks me most in a book is world-building, and the Toby Daye series has that in spades. And hearts and diamonds and cups and staves and pentacles. The Bay Area that Seanan knows and loves combines with the world of Faerie from her extensive folklorist background, and sports her own twists and touches. Both worlds are vivid and real, sometimes enchanting and magical and sometimes frightening and violent, and I find myself craving every scrap of detail about Fae rules and culture, and of how the Fae interact with the mortal world, easily as much as I crave to know how Toby's going to get out of her next scrape.

Ah, Toby. October Daye, half-human private investigator, sarcastic and impulsive and only sometimes aware of her own flaws, trying to do what's right even when she hates it, sucked back by that very sense of right and wrong into the world she tried to leave behind. I'd hire her in a heartbeat if I needed a problem solved, I'd enjoy hanging out with her for coffee, and I'd despair if I ever had to try to teach her something new. Or deliver her a piece of bad news. All of Seanan's characters are like this-- complex, layered, imperfect, true to themselves as best they can be but still as unpredictable and fallible as any real person you might know. (Here's a bonus hint: even narrators don't know everything.) Even a great mystery will never hook me if the author doesn't make me care about the characters. In Rosemary and Rue, even the characters you wouldn't particularly want to get to know are still people you kind of want to know more about.

Did someone say mystery? You'll find Rosemary and Rue shelved in SF/Fantasy, not mystery, but I'd recommend it just as highly to mystery fans. I think the first phrase I ever used to describe the book was "Veronica Mars meets Charles de Lint". I'm a fan of urban fantasy, of stories in which the magical and fantastic still exist, not in some alternate reality but right here in our cities, cleverly hidden from all but the most discerning or the most unlucky. I'm also a fan of murder mysteries, and I read an embarrassing number of them. So I feel I can say this with fannish authority: these two great tastes never tasted so great together!

What makes it work is that Seanan doesn't sacrifice the one genre for the other. The mysteries in each book-- as well as the overarching mysteries across the series-- aren't simple and telegraphed; there's no clear good guys and villains, there's no obvious butler-did-it, nor is there an obvious least-likely-person-did-it. At the same time, Seanan doesn't use the classic and infuriating trick of withholding vital information about the plot until the last five pages of the book just to make it impossible to guess, a la "what you all didn't know is, Bob was a prison guard twenty years ago, and Bill was an inmate where he worked!" The clues are all there, if you look. Mystery plotting is a tricky balance, and I think Seanan strikes it well.

On the other hand, the urban fantasy isn't just a stage setting. Walk through any bookstore's mystery section and you'll find loads of gimmick series: musician mysteries, cat mysteries, cookie mysteries (recipes included!), racehorse mysteries (okay I like Dick Francis a lot, but still), theatre mysteries, etc. Many of them are well done, but most of them are still only using their "thing" as a gimmick. The October Daye series isn't an "x mystery" series; it's an urban fantasy series in which there are compelling mysteries. It's a tale of a woman caught between two worlds and trying to live in both, a portrait of those worlds and an introduction to the people who live there.

It's unavoidable that I'll get a little gushy when talking about my dearest friends, but I promise, friendship is only enhancing the gush a little. I genuinely and highly recommend Rosemary and Rue to fans of urban fantasy, or murder mysteries, or P.I. novels, or worldbuilding, or complex characters, or folklore, or fairy tales, or Shakespeare, or British folk ballads, or just plain exciting and engrossing stories that are likely to keep you up half the night reading just one more page.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Nick Our library actually ordered copies of this, without my bugging them, based on mainstream journal reviews. I'm so happy for Seanan! It seems like she's gotten all grown up an everything... :-)

Nick Now that I managed to grab a copy and read it, I can comment more coherently on your review. :-)

I have to agree, and think that Seanan has done an excellent job of blending crime fiction/mystery and modern urban fantasy. I think that of modern urban fantasy writers, only Kat Richardson's Greywalker series has done this at such a high level of quality. I'm really looking forward to where the series goes from here.

Denell I just wish I read this book later...when I could get the rest in the series and read them all right now!!! :)

Shandra I am extremely envious of you... I would consider selling a body part to get into the proofing pool! ;)

Calamity Jim I'm think your friend has great potential, but I'm greatly offended by the treatment of rape and rape of minors in this book. There are a few nitpicks I have about technical aspects, but they are all young author things that I hope Seanan grows up and out of, but some of the themes in her book and the treatment of them are really offensive and I feel a little betrayed by the author that these were normalized. Not one of the characters batted an eye or was horrified for moral reasons at the existence of Home. I'm having a really hard time getting over that.

Tria How so, Jim? I'm a survivor of sexual, physical, emotional & psychological abuse, and I didn't find anything there remotely triggering or particularly upsetting - if you remember that you're listening to an unreliable narrator and that this is not the human world, you might (though I guess you didn't) think that they have different norms.

Vixy, I didn't know you were on here; d'you mind if I add you? :)

message 7: by Mari (new) - rated it 1 star

Mari So, a writer that isn't afraid to at least mildly touch past politically correct. Hopeful in itself. Definitely I am buying this book. Hopefully I'll be impressed enough to get the series. I am on the hunt for something to read...I read Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and Larry Correra. I am looking for a female author I can add. Its been a long time since I have enjoyed one...and being female that makes me feel sort of bad.

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