The Faerie PI Continued: Seanan McGuire – A Local Habitation

I have a strange relationship with Seanan McGuire’s books. Some of them I really hate, others I find okay, yet others show such amazing glimpses of potential that they make me want to read everything she’s ever written. I only started the October Daye series last year but that first book truly blew me away. So even though I’m about a decade behind, I picked up the second book and – while not as great as the first – was yet again entertained and positively surprised.

A LOCAL HABITATION
by Seanan McGuire

Published: DAW Books, 2010
Ebook: 400 pages
Series: October Daye #2
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: The last train out of San Francisco leaves at midnight; miss it and you’re stuck until morning.

October “Toby” Daye is a changeling, the daughter of Amandine of the fae and a mortal man. Like her mother, she is gifted in blood magic, able to read what has happened to a person through a mere taste of blood. Toby is the only changeling who has earned knighthood, and she re-earns that position every day, undertaking assignments for her liege, Sylvester, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills.

Now Sylvester has asked her to go to the County of Tamed Lightning—otherwise known as Fremont, CA—to make sure that all is well with his niece, Countess January O’Leary, whom he has not been able to contact. It seems like a simple enough assignment—but when dealing with the realm of Faerie nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Toby soon discovers that someone has begun murdering people close to January, whose domain is a buffer between Sylvester’s realm and a scheming rival duchy. If Toby can’t find the killer soon, she may well become the next victim.

I’m not well-versed in the realm of Urban Fantasy but I thought this story was such a cool mash-up. You get Fae and changelings and all sorts of mythical creatures, but you also get a sort of locked room murder mystery. Toby and her new teenage assistant Quentin are sent to the County of Tamed Lightning to see if Sylvester’s niece is okay. She hasn’t been calling and that’s unusual. When they arrive at Countess January’s computer company, things immediately turn weird. Not only are there very few staff for a building this size but they also seem to be hiding something. And January tells Toby that she’s got things wrong. It’s Sylvester who hasn’t been answering Jan’s calls. Something is definitely rotten in the County of Tamed Lightning.

This second Toby Daye adventure had a much slower start than the pilot novel (I’m calling it that now, because this feels like a TV show and I wouldn’t mind an adaptation). But all that somewhat tedious set up is for a reason. Not only does McGuire introduce a bunch of new characters, she also uses the time to foreshadow things and to lead her readers astray. I thought I was so clever when I figured out one little twist pretty early on. And I was right about that twist. But I also thought I had everything else figured out. Something or someone is killing off the people working at January’s company and I was sure I knew who the murderer was from the beginning. I’m glad to say I was wrong and McGuire did manage to surprise me!

We don’t only follow Toby and Quentin along on their investigation, though. That alone would have been fun because the two of them develop a wonderful dynamic. Toby wants to teach Quentin, but she’s also fiercely protective of him. After all, spending any amount of time with her usually leads to mortal danger and she does not want Quentin to come to harm because of her. But there is also something very strange about the murders. Normally, when Fae die, the Night Haunts come to take away the bodies. Fae don’t rot, so even though they’re immortal, when they die, humans would eventually notice the bodies. But these murders? The Night Haunts seem uninterested in doing their job. What’s even stranger is that the victims’ blood is “empty” – Toby can’t get their memories out of them and so she’s tapping in the dark for a long time.

There were a few things that frustrated me while reading this book but most of them can be explained away by “it’s magic”. I did feel like the reader is supposed to know a bit more than Toby but knowing – or at least suspecting – what I did, it annoyed me so much that Toby didn’t get it as well. She’s smart, damn it, and she knows way more about Faerie than I do!
The other thing, and that’s the reason I don’t read much Urban Fantasy, is the narrative tone. I’m not a particular fan of the smart, somewhat self-deprecating, sassy heroine who nonetheless overcomes a dozen injuries and can still kick ass. And Toby is exactly that. But, and that’s why I want to follow her further adventures, she’s also kind and a little lost and she’s got a sense of humor.

As slow as the beginning may have been, the book ramps up the stakes and delivers more and more action scenes the further you get along. The ending was great, although I could have done without the emotional villain monologue, and I was so happy that things turned out differently than I expected. McGuire managed to write a fun, exciting second novel in this series and if the next one is as good, she may yet turn me into a proper fan. Go, Toby!

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good!

My thoughts on The October Daye series:

  1. Rosemary and Rue

Urban Fairy Thriller: Seanan McGuire – Rosemary and Rue

I am not a fan of Seanan McGuire’s fiction. But I really like her as a person – in the SF Squeecast podcast, in interviews, whenever I read her non-fiction – and so it was hard for me to see that this cool, funny person has written books that I considered – sorry –  utter crap (two of the three Wayward Children novellas, the third one was actually quite good). So I came to this book with negative expectations. I was worried I would encounter the same one-dimensional characters and lack of plot. Thank the gods of literature I was wrong. So very, very wrong in fact that I’m actually looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

ROSEMARY AND RUE
by Seanan McGuire

Published by: DAW, 2009
Ebook: 368 pages
Series: October Daye #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: The phone was ringing.

October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…
The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.

I went into this book knowing only the very basics. Toby Daye, half-fairy or something, and private detective investigates case. Which was really good because when I read the first chapter, the twist at the end blew me away! Within just the first few pages, McGuire delivers an emotional punch to the guts that set the tone for the rest of the reading experience for me. I suddenly liked this book, even though the story hadn’t even started. And because I want you guys to have that same fantastic experience, I will not tell you what this initial plot twist is.

The actual story begins when Countess Evening Winterrose – a pretty important fae – is brutally killed, hiring Toby with her last words to figure out her murder case. Now Toby has been absent from the world of Faerie for a long time and doesn’t really want to go back but promises and bindings are important things and she has no choice but to investigate this murder and figure out what is going on. She meets old acquaintances – both the friend and the enemy kind -, meets new people, and almost reaches the end of her powers. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the case is resolved in the end, because there are many more questions left open and much of the world to discover yet.

What I liked about this book first and foremost was Toby herself. That girl has been through hell and is just trying to survive. And people just don’t want to let her. Whether it’s the case that sends her to places and people who take an emotional toll on her, or rather plain attempts on Toby’s life, she just can’t catch a break! I felt for her, I really did, even though there isn’t much that separates her from the other Urban Fantasy heroines I’ve read about. But that one thing from the beginning does separate her and I just happened to like her personality. She’s not the average sassy, sexy, monster-slaying bad-ass. She may be a changeling (a half-fae) but other than that, she’s just a woman trying to get by in life. That includes feeding the cats and paying the bills.

The other thing I really enjoyed and that will probably keep me reading a lot more of this series is the world building. I love mythology and fairy tales, so many of the terms in this particular Faerie world weren’t new to me, but I really liked how McGuire interwove everything and gave certain mythological beings different powers. The fae themselves are separated into different sub-spieces, if you like, and they all come with different abilities. Changelings have weaker powers and, depending on their parentage, their magic also manifests in different ways. There are kelpies and goblins (I loved the rose goblins so much, I want one of my own!), there are Undine and Sidhe, and there is something called the Court of Cats with the aptly named Tybalt as their leader.

Speaking of Tybald, and the male characters in general, I was worried for a while that there would be a romance sub-plot in this story because it’s Urban Fantasy and the dreaded love triangle seems to be a staple of that genre. While Toby doesn’t live in celibacy, I wouldn’t call this a romance. At all. There was a very obvious hint at a potential romance to come in later books but I hope it goes another way. I was a little surprised myself but I’m quite partial to Tybalt. 🙂

Now the plot was at the same time the weaker element of this story and one of its strengths. Let me explain. I thought Toby ran around pretty aimlessly for a long time, talking to people who might have information on her case, visiting places that may give her something to go on, and that’s dandy and all, but it never felt like we got any closer to the resolution. However, the last third of the book, maybe even the entire second half, was so filled with action that it became impossible to put it down. I don’t know how many times I thought “just one more chapter, and then I’ll go to sleep” but I ended up finishing the book. Because if Toby had it hard before, in the second half of the book she really doesn’t get a moment’s peace. It was so much fun to read, with something thrilling happening in every chapter, an attempt on Toby’s life, a big revelation, a character betrayal, you name it.

This felt very much like the beginning of a series, with its own plot, but with many more plot lines that have only just been set up. I’m sure some of the favors Toby called in, some of the promises she’s made, will come back to bite her in the ass later and all you long-time fans will probably giggle to yourselves right now because you already know. I can’t judge the series based on only this book, but I was positively surprised and will definitely continue reading.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good