October “Toby” Daye is a half-human, half-faerie with a checkered past even by “changeling” (half-breed) standards. She has gone from pampered daughter of a Fae legend to street urchin to the sworn knight of Faerie Duke Simon Torquill to the wife and mother of mortals–all before the reader even meets her.
Rosemary and Rue, the first October Daye novel, follows Toby as she works to solve the mystery of a friend’s murder. It’s an intriguing mystery but also an effective introduction to Toby’s world; it never feels weighted down by exposition. Toby herself is tenacious, resourceful, and brave (think an urban-fantasy Veronica Mars). I also liked that Toby’s powers are limited. She has to figure out how to get what she wants without overpowering people physically or magically. The book is scary, dark, funny, and peppered with intriguing supporting characters–and I say this as someone who usually rolls her eyes when the word “Faerie” is used.*
It’s not a perfect debut; for one thing, the book relies way too heavily on the “Toby passes out from injuries and wakes up in a new location” transition between scenes. My other frustration with the book was Toby’s relationship with Devin, the sleazeball who recruited and exploited her when she lived on the streets, but this has an effective and unexpected payoff. Overall, Rosemary and Rue is one of the best urban fantasy novels I’ve ever read.
Needless to say, I got my hands on more October Daye books as quickly as I could. Alas, the sequels haven’t quite lived up to the original for me. Book 2, A Local Habitation, had an intriguing setup, but the culprit was obvious halfway through the book. It was almost painful to watch Toby not realize what was right in front of her face–it made her seem like a really terrible investigator, frankly.
Book 3, An Artificial Night, is definitely an improvement. The stakes are high, the setting is spooky, and the villain is absolutely terrifying. But I found myself annoyed at the way Toby was written in the book — suddenly almost everything she does comes with a rescue from someone more powerful than she is. An Artificial Night’s subtitle might as well be “in which everyone else saves Toby.”**
Of the four I’ve read, Late Eclipses, in which Toby tries to determine who is poisoning her friends, comes the closest to recapturing the Toby I loved in Rosemary and Rue. However, the theme of Toby trying to balance mortal and Faerie existence seems to be slipping away from the books as Toby acknowledges that her life is ruled by her connection to Faerie. This is likely the right choice for the series, but I enjoyed that element of Toby’s life and felt sad to see it neglected.
I will definitely read the next books in the October Daye series, and will recommend Rosemary and Rue to anyone who will listen. Its sequels don’t quite measure up, but they are still readable and entertaining. If you’re looking for a slightly darker urban fantasy journey, look no further.
Rating for Rosemary and Rue: Buy it
Rating for A Local Habitation: YMMV/read if you’re a completionist
Rating for An Artificial Night and Late Eclipses: Library Loan
* Most writers portray Faeries as gorgeous, powerful, superior, and irrational. It’s hard not to get a been-there-done-that feel from a lot of Faerie-themed books.
** Until the end of the book, that is. The end is extremely satisfying.