Rosemary and Rue is the first book in the October Daye series. As a series, it’s more than a little bit similar to the Dresden files, combining fantasy and detective fiction, but I honestly prefer McGuire’s series.
Brief plot summary
October “Toby” Daye is a changeling private detective, half human and half sidhe. Forced to investigate the murder of a powerful figure in the faerie courts by the victim’s dying curse, Daye’s investigation will take her from San Francisco to the faerie realms and back, bringing her into conflict with more than one important figure from her past.
I realize this summary sounds terrible and melodramatic, that’s my fault, not this book’s.
So how is it?
It’s got more than a little in common with the Dresden files (and, I’m told, Laurel K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison’s work but I haven’t read those authors. I’ve seen a comparison with Lilith Saintcrow but it’s nothing like the books by her that I’ve read). Even the cover art is similar.
There’s an anecdote floating around from McGuire somewhere, about being told by the editor or publisher that Date was “too bitchy”. Her response was to suggest a find-and-replace and swap out “Harry Dresden” for “October Daye” and see what the result was. She didn’t end up having to change anything.
But yeah, I like the October Daye series better than the Dresden files. Daye is, to me, a more interesting character. Both protagonists are flawed in interesting ways, but Daye manages to break out of the “hardboiled PI” stereotype much more successfully than Dresden. She’s also a lot more likeable in general. The other thing I like about McGuire over Butcher is that her series is much more tightly focused. Harry Dresden’s world ends up feeling a little bit like the old White Wolf World of Darkness, with every fantasy and horror cliché brought to life resulting in a world so broad that a lot of the detail gets lost. By limiting the supernatural element to the fae, McGuire present a world with a lot more initial depth.
I’ve never been to San Francisco (where these novels are set), but McGuire’s geography certainly can’t be worse than Butcher’s Chicago.
One of the things I like about the series is that Daye is a fairly believable character. As a changeling her magical abilities are severely limited compared to full-blooded fairies. Nor is she a physical powerhouse. These limitations end up meaning that McGuire can’t just solve problems by charging into them.
The classic amorality of the fae folk is present here, albeit slightly toned down. It’s only the Luidaeg in the first book who has that iconic strange morality. The standard conventions of fairy stories are fairly well adhered to. To me that provides extra richness to the worldbuilding, although I’ll admit some readers might be bored to see the same old themes.
Plotwise, there’s nothing particularly novel or exciting going on. Considering that McGuire has published 10 October Daye books in 4 years, that should probably be unsurprising. I wouldn’t call this eye-opening or enlightening reading, it’s just good fun fiction. If those are your expectations coming in then it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed.
Later books in the series introduce elements from other genres (particularly the second volume, An artificial night, which is almost a horror novel), enough to prevent the books from becoming too formulaic without diluting the fairly tight focus.
I’ve recommended this series a couple of times. It’s good for fans of the Dresden files (although it might be a little too similar), but it’s also good for readers who find the Dresden files embracing toxic masculinity a little too uncritically*. Faerie fiction is, in some ways, a more established subgenre than contemporary noir-fantasy or whatever you call the other stuff, so there are plenty of opportunities for other recommendations. In fact, I’ve come across more than one really good book from people who have enjoyed the October Daye books and have recommended other stuff to me.
So here are the cross recommendations
The Dresden files / Jim Butcher
The hum and the shiver / Alex Bledsoe
The chrome born / Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon – It’s kind of terrible but I love it just the same
Singer of souls / Adam Stemple – this one goes wayyy off the rails towards the end. I was enjoying it up to that point but the last portion of the book I absolutely hated and it killed any desire I had to read the sequel
The books of magic / Neil Gaiman
War for the oaks / Emma Bull
*I’ve been told that Dresden’s major character development across the series actually does deal with this, but I haven’t read enough of the books to notice yet.