Rosemary & Rue

Seanan McGuire is a local author and fan, she chaired Baycon in 2003 and returned as Toastmistress in 2007. She’s also well known in filk circles and was the Filk guest of honor at the combined Westercon/ConChord earlier this year. She also just won the Campbell Award for best new writer last month.

For all these reasons, and since there has been considerable buzz around it, I was looking forward to reading her debut novel, Rosemary and Rue, but honestly it didn’t really do much for me.

Part of it is simply the genre, I’m not the biggest Urban Fantasy series fan. I enjoy some variations on it, like the Inspector Chen books or even Justina Robson’s Keeping it Real. But specifically, the tough as nails female detective (or cop, or bounty hunter) who is also a fairy (or vampire, werewolf, etc.) and awesome (but damaged) mostly leaves me cold.

The other reason I was looking forward to Rosemary and Rue is the same reason I am writing it up for this column… it’s set in San Francisco. The Bay Area has a long tradition of both noir and fantasy fiction, so the combination would seem to have quite a bit of potential. Nine Tail Fox, reviewed in this column in SF/SF #123, made me very happy; and I was looking forward to what an author who actually lives here could do with the place.

As it turns out, the world and history of the Fairy seem to have a lot of thought put into it; and I suspect the mythology will become richer and deeper as the series continues. But the actual physical location seems to get short shrift. The cold and fog get their obligatory nod, of course, but except for Golden Gate Park, there are hardly any streets, neighborhoods or landmarks mentioned. Likewise our protagonist, October “Toby” Daye gets on a generic San Francisco cab, rides a generic San Francisco bus and some of the action takes place at the San Francisco Museum of Art. She drives from the Bay Bridge down a unnamed one way street, boards the bus and ends up at Golden Gate Park. So of course I try to calculate which park entrance and what bus, but it’s all so vague that it’s hard to maintain a sense of place. Which is a shame really, since even when I am reading about cities I am unfamiliar with, the unique nomenclature and geography of places often helps ground stories, and large parts of modern SF worldbuilding is based on faking up the sort of background that a real world setting provides for free.

The main exception, as mentioned is Golden Gate Park, or more specifically the Japanese Tea Garden. Several major plot developments happen within or near the Tea Gardens. It’s a good choice, a naturally otherwordly spot anyway. And I liked the description of the Park as a series of fiefdoms. Hopefully to be described in greater detail in later books of the continuing series. However, I was a little surprised that the Rose Garden didn’t get a mention, given how roses feature elsewhere in the book and that Toby passes right by them at least once, if I am reading the action correctly.

Still, the world McGuire creates in the book is probably worth exploring further, and I may eventually pick up the rest of the series, although that might involve some heavy lifting if she continues putting them out at the incredible pace she has maintained so far. Rosemary & Rue came out just last year and already there are two follow ups: A Local Habitation and An Artificial Light, with two more to be published next year: Late Eclipses in March and The Brightest Fell in September.

Incredibly she has also managed to start a whole other series at the same time, under the pen name Mira Grant, and the first book in that series, Feed, has been getting a lot of good press and word of mouth as well. A peek at the synopsis tells me that the protagonists are a brother and sister team of bloggers living in Berkeley. Even better, the setting is near future post-zombie apocalypse, and you know I love me some zombies, so I think the fairies may have to wait a bit. You can look forward to a writeup of Feed in the next few months instead.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #109, September 2010