Returning to the world created in her debut novel, Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire absolutely delivers on the promises hinted at in her first publication. We come back to Toby Daye, the changeling woman and private investigator, as she’s working as a knight for Sylvester Torquill, Duke of Shadowed Hills. The Summerlands, the magical realm belonging to the fae, are divided up into different Counties, each one ruled by a Duke or Duchess, who then answer to the local court ruler, in this case a Queen. The Counties correspond to different areas in the mortal world; the County of Tamed Lightning, where the main story takes places, corresponds to the city of Fremont, California.
Sylvester has asked Toby to check on his niece January Torquill, the Duchess of Tamed Lightning. She has failed to check in for over three weeks, and Sylvester has become concerned that something sinister is happening in her County. Toby heads out with Quentin as her assistant, a young fae who was introduced in the previous book. The situation they find at ALH Computing, the headquarters of January and her team of technological fae, is much worse than anyone could have expected. What started as a dream of bridging new technology and the Realm of Faerie has turned dark, ugly, and deadly. It’s up to Toby, with the help of Quentin, Tybalt the King of Cats, and Connor the Selkie, to stop the deaths and get to the bottom of the mystery.
Toby is much more together in A Local Habitation. She’s sharp, quick, and logical, and goes about solving this series of magical crimes like any good P.I. Investigation is the key here, and Toby has got it down. Her character is much more centered, which makes sense in the storyline because she’s had more time to recover from her fourteen year imprisonment as a fish. She’s a woman who has finally figured out her purpose and she doesn’t hesitate to pursue the facts of a case, whether she’s meticulously searching through mounds of paperwork or using her fae abilities to try and read the blood of those who’ve been killed. Her decisions make sense, and the progression of events is well-thought out without being obvious. The mystery stays indistinct up until the very end, as a good mystery should.
January herself is a little flat. There’s so little time to get a feel for her character during the events of the book, I think more could have been done with her. More interaction between the two main women would have been nice to read. Gordan, one of the fae that works for January, has much more background explained than her boss, and is at times really funny with her biting, abrasive attitude. Quentin and Tybalt are much more developed, but poor Connor is still mostly a pretty face set to tempt Toby into indiscretion. The cast overall is a little non-diverse; most people are described as white, except for Yui Hyouden, a Japanese Kitsune and a minor character. I’m still holding out for more characters of color in future books.
The blending of technology and magic in the story is fascinating, as we meet April, January’s daughter, a dryad whose tree was destroyed several years ago by developers. She has been installed into a computer server, giving her abilities far different from the traditional wood nymph. Her personality takes a while to emerge, but once it does, watch out; this is a tech-fae with strong ideas about how things should work. The idea of using technology to aid Faerie is very unique, and it was handled well in the story, becoming a main driving force behind the mystery. The descriptions never became too technical, but enough was described that you felt the characters really knew what they were talking about.
A Local Habitation is a great sequel to Rosemary and Rue. The best part: it’s not necessary to read the first book before starting the second. It will help, but McGuire is adept at mentioning past events with just enough explanation that you get the gist, without them becoming long drawn out flashbacks or confusing the current storyline. Good characters, an interesting mystery, and an author who continues to improve her books make this a series worth reading. Keep an eye out for An Artificial Night, coming out in September 2010.
Check out Seanan McGuire’s website or follow her on Twitter @SeananMcGuire