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Monday, May 10, 2010

The Fae & the Fish Pond

“We hated each other so well and loved each other so badly... and I had no idea what I was going to do without her.” (excerpt from Rosemary and Rue)
Even though Rosemary and Rue (which came out in September 2009) reads as if it came from the pen of an experienced writer, it is, in fact, Seanan McGuire’s first published novel... and what a fabulously-engrossing novel she has produced for her debut. Avoiding the major pitfall inherent in the work of so many other writers out there today--that of falling back on yet another retelling of a story we’ve all read before-- McGuire has created a fresh and original story, with an array of well-drawn characters, an extremely well-realized world, and full of intricate plotting--and she has accomplished it all in a poetic, lyrical style. 
Rosemary and Rue starts off like a standard detective story. San Francisco P.I. October “Toby” Daye is several hours into a tedious stakeout of a bad guy, whom she believes to have kidnapped her client/boss’s wife and daughter. She thinks about the case, she daydreams, she takes a phone call from her boyfriend. Just another day in the life of a satisfied, modestly-successful working woman and mother.
Granted, there are a couple of small differences between this plot and one in which you’d find “V.I. Warshawski” or “Kinsey Milhone”. First, Toby is a Changeling (half-human and half-Fae). She has to conceal her pointy ears and unusual eyes; no one--not even her human family--can know of her Fae heritage. Second, she’s currently hot on the trail of a full-blooded Fae, the aforementioned bad guy, whose powers are far superior to her own. (He also happens to be her client/boss’s twin brother. Awkward.) Still, Toby’s life is pretty ordinary.
Until, that is, it comes to a screeching halt that very same day. The bad guy manages to catch Toby off-guard and springs a shockingly-unorthodox--and highly-effective--spell on her, turning her into a fish, consigned to living out her life with the other koi in a fish pond at the Japanese Tea Gardens. Not only is Toby unable to comprehend this change, but her friends and family--Fae, Changeling, and human--have no clue what has happened, either; to them it is as if she vanished from the face of the earth. And so it remains, for the next fourteen years.
When the story picks up again, it is 2009, and Toby has somehow managed to break free of the pond. She finds a world vastly changed from the one from which she was unceremoniously yanked so long ago. Everyone she knew has long considered her dead, and her boyfriend and daughter refuse to have anything to do with her after her long, inexplicable absence. With the help of some old Fae friends, Toby slowly re-establishes some semblance of life. She gets a rent-controlled apartment, and a couple of Siamese cats (Cagney and Lacey) for companionship. She shuffles from one low-paying job to the next (currently she’s a grocery checker), finding it difficult to stay employed given her utter lack of knowledge concerning 21st-century technology. She fights depression while mourning all that she has lost, yet she manages to find a bit of solace in the monotony of this new life; the drudgery of 16-hour days helps keep some of the demons and nightmares at bay. The last thing she wants is to return to her old life, as it holds so many sad memories.
Both Fate and the Fae have other plans for Toby, though. Evening Winterrose, the Countess of Goldengreen--one of her oldest Fae acquaintances, with whom she has always had a complicated like/dislike relationship--winds up murdered. Before dying, she manages to leave a binding oath for Toby, ordering her to solve the murder and see justice done. And, just like that, Toby is back in the game. 
Her search for Evening’s killer(s) leads her first to the scene of the murder, where she samples Evening’s drying blood. (Her Fae half is Daoine Sidthe, the branch whose members have some facility in “reading” blood and the memories stored therein--a handy, albeit somewhat nauseating and physically debilitating, skill to have.) Unfortunately, her reading of Evening’s blood doesn’t yield much in the way of clues; Evening was shot and stabbed without ever getting a good look at her attacker. Instead, all Toby gets is firsthand knowledge of the pain and suffering her old friend endured as she lay dying. (Although, as incentives go, that’s a pretty effective one.)
Toby’s investigation unearths a few clues and causes her to seek out many Fae she hasn’t seen in some time. She pays a call to--and is then refused help by--the local Faery Queen, who governs all the San Francisco-area Fae. She goes to see an ex-lover/ex-mentor who essentially runs a questionable shelter for runaway Changelings. She visits her Undine friend whose home is the Japanese Tea Gardens (though not in one of the koi ponds). She spars with the local King of Cats, the leader of the area Cait Sidthe (who are apart from Faery and abide by different rules). She finally gives in and goes to see her own liege, from whom she’s been estranged since rising from the pond several months earlier (and who, far from being mad at her, is almost heartbreakingly overjoyed and relieved to see her). She even has cause, at one point, to visit The Luidaeg (the immortal sea-witch of nightmares). 
There’s also a lot more pain and suffering. Toby manages to get shot (with iron bullets, so harmful to Fae--including half-Fae--flesh), stabbed (with an iron blade), and beaten up multiple times, along the way. There are more deaths. Whatever is at stake, the bad guys are deadly serious about it.
Eventually Toby figures everything out--who killed her friend, and why, and what they hoped to accomplish. All her questions are answered, and make a wonderful kind of sense in their absolute simplicity. As in the best tradition of murder-mysteries, the reason behind everything is almost stunningly-obvious, making perfect sense. Combining that with McGuire’s imaginative and fascinating mix of beings from supernatural lore, what we’re left with is a rather brilliant fusion of the two genres. This is a story, and a world, and a group of characters just begging for a continuing series. Fortunately for us, that’s exactly what we’re going to get.
GlamKitty rating: 4.75 catnip mice (out of 5 possible)

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