Some readers like their fictional friends kept safe, never truly in harm’s way, despite immediate apparent dangers; you just know they’ll make out just fine in the end. I am not one of those readers—I like it when happy endings are not guaranteed, and the protagonist gets knocked around a bit.
And hoo boy does October “Tobey” Daye, protagonist of Seanan McGuire’s Rosemary and Rue, get knocked around. A lot. The half-Fae private investigator was once a knight of the Fae court, until she lost 14 years of her life in the line of duty; now she wants nothing to do with them. Unfortunately, she gets pulled right back in when a death curse binds her to solve the murder of Evening Winterrose, one of the oldest and most powerful figures of fairy nobility in San Francisco. It’s going to take all Tobey’s resources to form alliances and avoid getting killed, assuming the binding curse doesn’t kill her first.
I like my urban fantasy dark and gritty, and this fits the bill nicely. The Fae are delightfully treacherous, the stakes are high, and the suspense holds strong throughout. It’s very much a mystery with magical trappings, à la earlier Dresden Files installments. I had my suspicions of the culprit but was still guessing until the big reveal. The “urban” factor is also there though, as the landscape of San Francisco also plays a role in the events as they unfold.
One of the appeals of urban fantasy, like its parent genre fantasy, is the variety of magical systems and beings authors choose to flavor their worlds with. Faeries—the scary, trickster-ish, fickle type, not the cute Disney-fied constructs—add an interesting dimension, and McGuire has done her homework to come up with a diverse range of magical entities, ranging from Redcap hitmen to Selkies to haughty Cait Sidhe. These are beings with long lives and memories, and as readers, we only see a portion of the Fae machinations; Rosemary and Rue is the first of a series, providing enough closure of the main case to be satisfying but leaving tantalizing threads dangling for future resolution.
This would appeal to Dresden Files fans; it has the mystery focus of earlier installments combined with the darker tone of later ones. Readers looking for another tough female lead, though, may want to try Laurell K. Hamilton’s earlier Anita Blake novels.