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A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: DAW; Original edition (March 2, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0756405960

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.

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Check out Seanan McGuire’s website or follow her on Twitter @SeananMcGuire

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rosemary_and_rue_smRosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
368 pages
Publisher: DAW (September 1, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0756405718

October Daye is a changeling woman, half human and half fae, just trying to make a living as a private investigator while raising her daughter and loving her human fiancé. When she is forcibly enchanted by a man she is tailing for her faerie liege lord, she not only loses fourteen years of her life to being a fish, she loses everything she worked for in the human world, including her family. When an old faerie friend, Evening Winterrose, puts a binding on Toby to find the person who killed Evening, Toby is forced to dive headfirst back into the politics and machinations of the faerie realm and the responsibilities of being a knight of the realm, whether she likes it or not.

For a first novel, Rosemary and Rue is imaginative and inventive. Urban fantasy is being done to death these days, but McGuire managed to come up with some new aspects of Fae that I’ve never heard of before. I won’t spoil the book by giving anything away, but let’s just say changelings are cool. The interactions between Fae and the human world are well described, and the relationships between the characters are believable and even touching at times.

The book tries to take a noir approach to the story, throwing in meetings in dark alleys and gun shots in the park. Unfortunately, Toby doesn’t come off as a very good private investigator at the end of the book. She seems to merely careen from one crisis to another without stopping to gather clues, questions suspects or witnesses, or really think things through at all. All her discoveries and Ah Ha! moments are thrown literally in her path, and she spends a disappointing amount of time being unconscious or injured.

It’s no fun for the readers when their heroine spends more time being rescued than solving the case or rescuing anyone herself. It can be temporarily put off by the circumstances surrounding Toby during her first case back on the job, so to speak, but there will hopefully be some improvement in her investigative abilities and procedures in the next book coming out in March of 2010.

Toby herself is a great character, aside from her tendency to become the damsel in distress rather than the knight in shining armor. There are allusions to several previous great deeds she performed in order to gain her knighthood, so her careless and reckless behavior becomes even more confusing. Hopefully we’ll learn more about her back story as the series progresses, and she’ll get her head on a little straighter. It is heartening to see a character at least cast in the role of knight, even if she’s not playing it that well at the moment. She is otherwise very independent, willing to take physical risks, and does at times display some pretty sharp intelligence.

There are a few characters of color or mentions of other, non-European aspects of faerie, including the Kitsune, a Japanese fox faerie known for its wisdom and intelligence. The character described as a Kitsune is a powerful and sharp woman, ruling equally with her Fae husband. There is also mention of an Undine friend of Toby being Asian in her features, and there are two changeling kids that Toby befriends who may be Hispanic. All four characters play very important roles in the storyline, so that’s a big plus. However, all the romantic relationships portrayed are hetero-normative, which is a little disappointing.

Overall, this is a unique take on a popular sub-genre, and I’m willing to give McGuire the benefit of the doubt when it comes to her P.I. descriptions and character development of Toby. I’ll keep looking for more diverse faerie origins and relationships. I’ll be picking up the second book in March and keeping my fingers crossed.

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