Just when it seems that all the possible changes have been rung on the themes of detectives and the supernatural, along comes newcomer Seanan McGuire with Rosemary And Rue, the first in a new series featuring a changeling private eye who lives half in San Francisco, half in the Kingdom Of Faerie that overlaps it, unseen by mortal eyes. And in spite of the (literally) fey premise, October Daye is as gritty and damaged a heroine as Kinsey Millhone or Kay Scarpetta. In fact, the tone is more mystery than fantasy. McGuire’s mostly borrowed faerie lore and hierarchy play the role of local color and provide backstory for the desideratum, a magic box crafted of the four mystical woods by none other than Oberon himself. As October (Toby for short) pursues a killer and is pursued by mythical assassins in turn, her bitter wit and betwixt-and-between discomfort make her an engaging narrator who promises to sustain as long a series as McGuire might wish to write.
In the book’s prologue, Toby is on a mission to rescue the wife and daughter of her liege lord Sylvester. The quest takes her into the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, where her enemies catch her and transform her into a koi for 14 years. When she returns to her original form, her old life has disappeared along with her human husband and daughter, the latter now a teenager with no interest in the mother she thinks abandoned her. Her P.I. license is just as gone, so she takes a job in a grocery store to scrape up rent for herself and her cats, and she concentrates on ignoring Sylvester’s increasingly urgent summons. But when one of the longest-lived faeries in the region uses her dying words to bind Toby (via voicemail, no less) into solving her murder, the detective has to return to Faerie against her will and relive some of the most painful periods of her previous life.
McGuire has an excellent grasp of what makes the modern female-private-eye novel work. Toby is emotionally vulnerable but wary of relationships, certain that all she can depend on is her own intelligence, but fatalistic about her chances for redemption. Add the details of the faerie world—arcane, but treated with matter-of-fact economy—and Rosemary And Rue is a classic urban mystery, set not just in one colorful location, but two that happen to share the same space. And as Toby navigates the courtly customs and conventions of her pointy-eared heritage, readers also get to examine the sociological forces that drive an exotic culture. The October Daye series still has several worlds’ worth of nooks and crannies to explore, and Toby’s nocturnal existence is full of the kind of shadows that keep the pages turning. Changelings, like all faerie folk, live long; may McGuire and these novels do the same.