October Daye, a changeling (half-fairy) whose life was ruined after being turned into a fish for 14 years in a San Francisco pond, has recently returned to human form and is working as a cashier at Safeway. Unfortunately, "Toby" is called upon to investigate the death of a fairy Countess, Evening Winterrose, and must acquiesce, since Evening cast a curse upon her that will kill her if she fails. Rosemary and Rue
begins well. It's fast-paced and presents a lively setting of fantasy, murder, and action set in modern-day San Francisco. Unfortunately, as the novel progresses, its many flaws become more and more prevalent, as does its lack of creative ideas, all of which were used up at the beginning. The ending especially epitomizes this, concluding an initially promising tale with massive disappointment.
Let's start with the positives.
The book is fast-paced. Aware that she is writing a purely entertaining work, McGuire cuts straight to the action. There are no worthless tangents or lulls in the story's events. The author tries her best to entertain us, even when she doesn't necessarily succeed.
The character of October is faintly likable, if not cool or funny. McGuire tries to make her a tough, sarcastic hero who shoots out one-liners even when death is staring her in the face. She doesn't succeed, in part because of some dire problems with dialogue, and a certain stupidity to the book as a whole and October in particular. (Covered later) But I liked her enough to sympathize when Toby was badly injured, a repeated occurrence during the second half of the novel.
Most impressive, though, is the world-building. The books tells us how faeries hide their true identities with magic (a variety of disguise and costume spells), how their unusual bodies have never been discovered by medical science (thanks to magical beings known as night-haunts), and how they hide their abodes.
There are definite limits to the powers of each character. October in particular, being only half fairy, is relatively weak, and at a major strength disadvantage compared to most magical beings she encounters. I also enjoyed the various fairy races presented throughout the world. There are half-human, half-cats known as Cait Sidh, underwater beings known as Undines, and many others. While I'm aware that most of these are hardly original, and exist in many other works, McGuire meshes them together well. None of them seem haphazard or out-of-place.
The first hundred pages of the work are decent. This is when the reader is presented with most of McGuire's ideas, and introduced to the fairy world. The book is at its best here, and it's easy to ignore the many flaws.
Unfortunately, these rear their ugly heads over the last 250 pages, ruthlessly dragging the work down.
Firstly, the book is riddled with plot holes, glaring inconsistencies, and at times, outright stupidity. Toby herself occasionally comes across as dumb. Although she was a private investigator for many years, October informs us that cops are very much like children. I can't tell whether that is supposed to be the mindset of the character or the author shoehorning in her own views, but it's quite foolish, regardless. No attempts at proving this assertion are given, or even a unique perspective; it's presented as logical fact, with the standard cliche about power going to their head.
Also, want to guess what impresses Toby most about 2009, after having been a fish ignorant of the human world since 1995? Which of the many technological marvels was the most amazing? Why, the size of cell phones decreasing, of course!
And at times, October seems downright contradictory. Despite being a tough hero who repeatedly comes across death time and again, she has to turn away when her would-be assassin is killed.
But this is relatively minor. Far more galling are the many logical problems. Keep in mind that I wasn't looking for them, either. A careful reader will pick up on many more.
For starters, why would October's husband and daughter reject her over the phone after she vanished off the face of the Earth for 14 years? Wouldn't they at least be curious about where the hell she had gone to? Considering the police were clueless about her whereabouts, why are they so convinced she abandoned them, and wasn't abducted? And even if they were absolutely certain she left them, wouldn't they at least give a missing loved one the courtesy of a live meeting?
So why include something so utterly illogical? Because it's a contrivance for the sake of a plot point later on in the book. (And I'm sure many others later in the series)
Another contrivance is Evening Winterrose's dying curse on Toby. Why ask Toby? She is a weak changeling with limited knowledge of the current fairy world, having been absent from it for 14 years. There is no reason, especially considering the power we are told pure-blooded fairy nobles wield. She could have called someone far more capable and powerful.
But if she had, there would be no story.
Also, what about the night haunts? What the hell are they, and how do they arrive so quickly to the scene of a fairy death? Can one speak with them?
This is one of the most interesting questions I had as a reader, and it was left unanswered.
Another weak point occurs when October gets shot in the shoulder with a bullet. It almost kills her, and we are presented with considerable details on how she heals. However, not once are we told whether the bullet is lodged inside of her, and whether it was ever taken out! Only many pages later is there a fleeting mention that it passed clean through, as unlikely as that is for a bullet in the shoulder.
And why does October cast an enchantment on a toll bridge, making the worker there accept ordinary grass in lieu of money? This is captured on camera! Wouldn't this alert the humans to the presence of magic?
Perhaps most maddening is when an ally of October gets his hands on an assassin. Instead of getting information on who his employer is, which would solve the entire mystery, what does he do? He kills him.
Even after such an idiotic action, I was wondering why the hell Toby didn't use her "taste blood" ability to look into the assassin's past memories and his employer. It's her main power, after all.
Oh, but she eventually does! It's just 100 plus pages later, near the conclusion of the work, in the nick of time, right before the curse kills her, and after going through several more fights and adventures.
One plot contrivance is bad enough. But doing it consistently is a characteristic of a hack writer.
I was also annoyed by the dialogue in this book. It is shockingly poor. McGuire tries way too hard to make Toby sound cool, and fails miserably. Many conversations are utterly ridiculous and unnatural, and one often walks away with the impression that October is a buffoon and a fraud. One example is the following description of October driving like a maniac upon noticing an assassin in the back seat of her car; ...obviously still under the assumption that we were playing by some sensible set of rules. He was wrong. I like games. I usually win.
Again, McGuire is too desperate to make October seem tough, and by doing so, makes us believe the opposite.
However, even October's dialogue might be better than any of the suave, handsome male love interests. This line by the King of Cats, Tybalt, doesn't sound so bad in isolation; "Since I don't generally ask questions I don't want to have answered, yes, that would be pleasant."
However, imagine this style of speech over several pages, non-stop. And not only by Tybalt, but from two other major male protagonists. It frequently gets cheesier than softcore porn.
In fact, the ham-fisted romantic subplots in the book is at a comparable level to those in adult films. In what can be best be viewed as shameless pandering, the author introduces us to three hunky, impossibly handsome, dashing, dangerous, and often cruel men. One, Devin, is her first love who she caught cheating with her best friend. Another, Connor, is an old flame married to a princess who is heir to the throne that Toby is a knight of. But it's okay, since that princess is a cruel bitch, and the marriage is one of convenience. Lastly, Tybalt is the aforementioned King of the Cats, and the dramatic complication here is simply that he supposedly despises October. Nice try. You can't fool me, book.
None of these relationships feel remotely real or interesting. If I wanted a vapid, generic love story for horny housewives, I wouldn't have picked up an "urban fantasy mystery".
McGuire strikes out at love, but she is equally bad at combat. It's very obvious that she knows nothing about fighting or even tried to do any research, a problem when your book has action scenes in it.
For instance, here October Daye punches an assassin holding a gun while at a dead run; I pulled my arm back as I charged, punching the bastard in the side of the head as hard as I could.
Where to even begin? If an assassin has a gun, then disarming him should probably
be the main priority. Punching him only to have him easily shoot you makes little sense. (Of course, the assassin doesn't do this immediately, since as soon as he turns around to face Toby, he is attacked from the other side by her friend, and can't waste the fraction of the second needed to squeeze the trigger)
However, there is also the fact that punching someone while running towards them is weak and ineffectual! Try it sometime. There is little power in such a blow. As a former amateur boxer, I can tell you that a punch is only effective when you have your feet set. That way, you can put your entire weight into the strike. Not just the upper body, but the hips and legs as well.
Of course, it would have made infinitely more sense for October to tackle her assailant and make a grab for the gun.
But perhaps none of these flaws are as bad as what the book lacks
in its final 250 pages. Ideas. Many of the flaws I mentioned were present in the initial 100 pages, but they were easier to ignore when I was reading about the fairy world. However, it appears that McGuire used all of them up. The final 250 pages play out like a cliched, third-rate knockoff of a noir mystery. In fact, it's hardly even a "mystery". More like a straightforward procedural.
And almost all the weakness of the book outlined above are at play in the dreadful ending. The identity of the murderer makes no sense. He had numerous opportunities throughout the book to get what he was looking for. Hell, most of them don't even involve any further violence after the murder of Evening. This is yet another plot contrivance; we wouldn't have all our potboiler action mystery then, would we?
The final confrontation plays out like the ending of a low-budget 80's action film. Instead of getting close to the villain with guile, October gives him plenty of warning. Instead of immediately shooting him, they talk at length, complete with a cliched evil villain speech.
Finally, there is a revelation, other characters come into play, there is a struggle for the guns, and of course, in the end it's a non-Toby character who kills the mastermind.
It's sad that it ends this way. The book had a solid start, and I was liking it, warts and all. By the end, I largely regretted picking it up, as it had devolved into another poorly-written, mediocre, predictable mess, so common among pure entertainment paperbacks.