Monday, September 27, 2021

The October Daye Reread: Rosemary and Rue

Over the last three years I have read Seanan McGuire novels much like I eat a bag of Doritos, which seems like it might be a weird comparison except that I have very little self control when it comes to Doritos. I can only imagine it looks like my hands are a blur and I’m throwing chips into my face as quickly as is humanly possible. Likewise, once I got hooked on both the October Daye and Incryptid series, I also threw the books at my face as quickly as I could. The main difference is that the books are far healthier than the Doritos. Both are delicious.

I stumbled back into October Daye after a 5-year break when Rosemary and Rue didn’t quite do it for me, at a time when McGuire’s Newsflesh novellas written as Mira Grant were absolutely my thing. But I won a Seanan McGuire prize pack containing 14 novels in all, and I love books! Even the ones I don’t love! I got distracted when the Incryptid series was on the Hugo ballot in 2018 but when I came back to October Daye the following year (when it was up for the Best Series Hugo a second time), I hit a stretch where I read at least one novel from Seanan McGuire each month for almost two years. Like I said, Doritos in my face.

US Cover

Since I’m caught up with just about everything Seanan McGuire has published (I have Indexing Reflections, Boneyards, and her uncollected short stories left to read) and I’m between reread projects for Nerds of a Feather after finishing Reading Deryni and The Dragon Prince Reread AND we’re coming up on a major event in the just-published-this-month When Sorrows Come AND we’re still reeling from a world changing event in the previous novel in the series, A Killing Frost (something I’ll touch on when it becomes appropriate in the reread), I had an itch to restart the October Daye series.

Let’s do this.

Spoilers, ho!

First, I am absolutely amazed by how much Seanan McGuire jammed into Rosemary and Rue, though I don’t know how much of that is apparent unless you are familiar enough with the series to know just how important certain things are. I’ve also forgotten, in the eight years since I last read Rosemary and Rue, that the WHOLE THING with Devin and Home is all in this book. I really thought that it was a storyline threaded through multiple novels - though, again, it’s been eight years and for reasons that will make sense later, Devin does sort of appear in subsequent novels and the consequences of what Toby does in Rosemary and Rue echo throughout the series.

The prologue to Rosemary and Rue sets up the villainy of Simon Torquill and Oleander de Merelands, and has Toby being turned into a fish for fourteen years. One of several bits of heartbreak this book contains is that Rayseline is a decent and normal child before she and Luna are abducted. By the time Toby is de-fished, Raysel is broken.

Right now these are just names, but I’m assuming that if you’re following me on this journey that you’re familiar with October Daye and Rosemary and Rue. In many ways, this was the inciting incident not just for the novel but for the series. So much that happens later is directly tied to this event as well as what led up to this event.

French Cover

Here’s what happens, quickly sketched.

Rosemary and Rue is an urban fantasy novel where the world of faerie intersects and overlaps with our own. Much and most of faerie keeps to itself and those that live among us does not do so openly. Faerie knows humanity. Humans have forgotten faerie, thinking the fae to be little more than, well, fairy tales. Folklore. Myth.

After fourteen years as a fish, Toby is trying to put her life back together as best she can and she’d rather do it without the obligations and expectations of faerie. Toby is half fae. Her mother, Amandine, is mentioned but we don’t know anything more than that she is fae. Her father was human. This matters because it impacts Toby’s position within faerie as well as the relative strength of her magic. Blood matters. We’ll want to pay attention to that bit about blood and magic because it has everything to do with Toby’s journey over this series.

Evening Winterrose, a powerful full blooded faerie, knew she was about to be killed and was able to contact Toby and magically compel Toby to find the murderer. Toby’s background is that of a private investigator.

What follows is a crash introduction to faerie, the power of alliances and loyalty, and a dive into Toby’s background. Rosemary and Rue introduces what we need to know - the knowes, the fae, the relationships, and Seanan McGuire smacks it all together and gives us what feels like the full story of Toby’s previous life as a street kid before she was able to get out and get clean. But you’re never fully out and that’s where much of the investigation goes - to her former mentor / pimp / gang leader Devin and his Home. Capitalization is important here.

Spoilers in a spoiler essay, but Toby figures it all out and solves the case. In retrospect, it would have been far better if Evening was able to stay dead. All this for Evening, whose actual death would alleviate so much suffering later even though she is mostly an ally to Toby and others as far as we (and they know). Everyone’s life would have been improved. I just don’t remember the how and the context for Evening’s return.

German Cover

As I mentioned earlier, so much is introduced here: the Roane, the Ludaieg - who is indeed a terrifying monster and we forget that throughout the series because of too much familiarity - hope chests, a part-Roane fae who dies in this novel, which is far more heartbreak than we need even without the context of the rest of the series. Dianda Lorden. The Bridge Troll and his assumption of dead, and acknowledgment that the kingdom would be so much better off if there were more people like Toby. Multiple mentions of Blind Michael. Tybalt’s introduction is that of a raging asshole. It’s amazing how he changes.

Seanan McGuire is seeding the ground and we have no idea how much from Rosemary and Rue. So, so much that is introduced here, even in passing, becomes critical later.

I think that’s why whatever did not work for me the first time I read Rosemary and Rue worked for me just fine the second time. Even though Rosemary and Rue is the first novel of the October Daye series it is a chance to come home and revisit old friends. Despite the fact that Seanan McGuire also introduced the idea that Toby will bleed a LOT in this series (so much blood, all of the blood), October Daye has been a comfort read for me.

October Daye hooked me as a series from the next novel, A Local Habitation, but coming back to Rosemary and Rue is like coming home. These are my friends and it’s almost like seeing them earlier in life before they are fully formed. This isn’t my Tybalt yet. This Tybalt is a complete ass and I don’t like him. Toby hasn’t yet begun to build her own found family. That comes later. It’s a little weird to see her as isolated as she is in Rosemary and Rue. One of Toby’s strengths is how she inspires such loyalty in those around here, at least in those who don’t also end up hating her. But that’s part of a larger point about fae society that runs through the October Daye series - the classism, the racism (of sorts), the hidebound mentality. That’s all examined and attacked through the existence of Toby.

I also wonder how much of the sea witch lore was planned in regards to her relationships with Toby and Amandine. We learn so much more in later novels and some of the short stories about what the Ludaieg has been working towards for centuries (if not longer, I don’t remember the timeline) and none of that comes through here. Here there’s a threat to kill Toby to ask her last question (this makes sense in the context of the novel), but as per their deal the witch is now in Toby’s debt. She owes Toby, and that’s a significant thing. Debts are important in this series.

So - that’s it for Rosemary and Rue. I hope you enjoyed revisiting it as much as I did. I look forward to talking about A Local Habitation in the next two months, but first I have When Sorrows Come just WAITING for me and there are big to dos and promises of actual happiness to occur, and probably Toby bleeding all over something, but that’s just to be expected.

Open roads and kind fires, my friends.

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 5x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him