I rarely get involved in a book series unless it has been completed or nearly completed by the time I begin. Inevitably, I’ll catch up, and the anxiety of waiting for what comes next always gets to me. Occasionally, however, I’ll pick up a book that happens to be the first in a series, and then I cannot seem to put them down. This has been the case with Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series. Start with the first book to get launched into the premise:
Genres: Fantasy Fiction, Medievalism
First Released: 2009
Part of a Series: Yes
Next Title in Series: A Local Habitation
Call Number: FANTASY MCGUIRE
Eyan’s Rating: 5/5
Find it: Physical copy on the 3rd Floor
Rosemary and Rue introduces the world of October “Toby” Daye, a changeling knight and occasional private detective. The world of Faerie is real, just hidden and forgotten by the human world, for the most part. Toby, half-fae and half-human, has been trying to live like a human, with her boyfriend and daughter blissfully unaware of her true heritage. However, as a knight of the realm, even a realm she’s trying to avoid, there are certain quests she cannot turn down. The prologue starts with a bang, as we are quickly introduced to Toby’s world as it stands now—the names of her boyfriend and daughter, allusions to her fae mother and childhood—and just as quickly, all that life becomes Toby’s past when she is transformed against her will into a fish for the next 14 years.
The prologue packs a punch, giving a lot of world-building and background information to then quickly rip it away. You start to love Toby right away, and the dawning horror she faces as she understands how much time has been stolen from her certainly lets you know how the series will go. The remainder of Rosemary and Rue shows Toby’s investigative side—she is called to solve the murder of her friend, the fae Countess Evening Winterrose.
The first five books, Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, Late Eclipses and One Salt Sea, somewhat form a mini-arc in Toby’s timeline. She ramps up in power and allies through the course of these five, and while One Salt Sea does NOT have a happy ending, it does feel like the end of a chapter. McGuire acknowledges this in the forward of one of the next books, explaining she wanted to get Toby to a specific starting point, but these five books were the necessary building blocks to that story.
And I have to say I enjoyed that she did it. This first narrative arc felt both fresh and familiar. We have a sassy heroine always throwing herself into harm’s way to protect those she loves, but I think Toby is a successful heroine in the way so many others fell short for me. Characters like Mercy Thompson from Patricia Briggs, Kate Daniels from Ilona Andrews, Anita Blake from Laurell K Hamilton, and even Rachel in Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, all felt flat or stereotypical to me, rather than multi-faceted, powerful women.
I’ll pause here to say all the authors mentioned above (except Ilona Andrews, who is the pen name for a husband/wife duo) are women writing women. So my opinion as a man, on whether feminine characterizations are appropriate and accurate is perhaps not important and certainly not needed. However, as both a literary scholar and an openly transgender man, I spend a lot of time thinking about the ways in which art and literature, in particular, reflect and create our world. Our idea of gender and gendered behavior came from somewhere, and I spend my academic hours talking about that connection.
I think this is why I’ve been so drawn to the character of Toby Daye. Not only is she the kind of strong heroine I’ve been searching for—if the number of books by the above authors I’ve read indicates anything—but Seanan McGuire is clearly a fan of literary patterns herself. All the titles of her Toby Daye series come from Shakespeare, and McGuire will often quote Shakespeare in other times and places.
The medieval and Arthurian scholar in me also rejoices at the accurate representation of courtly literature McGuire is presenting. Toby follows the standards for medieval literature, gender aside, like a knight in service to a Duke. Eventually, she gains a squire of her own and the formal title “Hero of the Realm.” There’s so much behind the casual blood discrimination between the immortal, pure-blooded fae and their changeling offspring, never mind the “lesser” fae-like pixies. It is not subtle, but the fact that, for the fae, magical power resides in their blood, and can be used to indicate their status and importance based on the potency of that blood, reflects medieval notions of nobility and classism.
Toby grows and learns as the series goes on. Not just in her fae magic or heritage, but as a person working through significant trauma. She loses nothing of herself that shouldn’t be lost, and it’s refreshing to see a character’s struggles not repeat but adjust as the character heals. Though this doesn’t mean she moves forward linearly, progress isn’t always just about moving forward.
I’ve been trying to decide if I have a favorite in the series so far, and I just keep thinking about all the things I like in each one. I think my favorite character is Quentin, though I have a hard time deciding who I like the most as every character has deep characterization and is fleshed out throughout the series. A comment made by someone in book one will come back in book one, for example, and it just shows how far ahead McGuire has been plotting Toby’s adventures.
I’ll leave you with the closing lines of Rosemary and Rue, which, despite being the final lines of book one, aren’t spoiling any plot points if you haven’t dived in yet, but it sums Toby up well:
My name is October Christine Daye; I live in a city by the sea where the fog paints the early morning, parking is more precious than gold, and Kelpies wait for the unwary on street corners. Neither of the worlds I live in is quite mine, but no one can take them away from me. I did what had to be done, and I think I may finally be starting to understand what’s important. It’s all about finding the way home, wherever that is. I plan on finding out.
I have time.
–Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire