So I would not normally pick up a book like Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire, except that Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) happens to be a good friend of mine. In fact, I would probably run away screaming at the blurb, which contains the word Faerie. I don't need your "correct" and "accurate" and "etymologically sound" spellings of mythological creatures, dammit! Also, I don't read about fairies. OR FAERIES.
Not until now, at least.
October "Toby" Daye is a private investigator in San Francisco. There's your urban. She's also a changeling, half-fae and half-human. There's your fantasy. She denies the world of Faerie, however, and chooses to live as a human. But just when she thinks she's out, they pull her back in! A prominent pureblood is murdered, and Toby—having known the deceased—must solve the murder and bring the killer to justice.
There are a few other things I ought to tell you about Toby. Her life kind of sucks, but she doesn't let the world get her down. She's rather sarcastic and doesn't take shit from anyone. She's prickly, you might say. She struggles financially. She puts great trust in her animal companions. She's attracted to a Bad Boy and a Good Guy. The very first time we see her, she's on a stakeout.
Oh yes, I'm going there: this book is like Veronica Mars, Faerie Detective.
This comes as no surprise, given that I met Seanan through VM fandom, but Seanan has been working on this book since long before VM premiered. And when you have a prickly private eye solving a murder in San Francisco, there is really no other option but to make your story hella noir. Which this book is, to my great delight. Toby is nocturnal, so all the action occurs at night. She has issues knowing who she can trust. There are hired killers and seedy establishments. People get shot. Honestly, the book is so good at being noir that I was thrown when some of the more fantasy elements appeared.
And that's because most of the fantasy is blended seamlessly in with the story. It's the setting and background for the story; it's not the story itself. The worldbuilding is very complex and well researched; the denizens of Faerie are divided into various breeds, like cats, all of which have Irish and Gaelic names (thankfully, there's a pronunciation guide in the beginning). Each race has different magical abilities and character traits (although I felt that the "Such-and-suches are always X, and this such-and-such was no exception" idea was overused, as if all the races have homogeneous personalities). They live under a medieval-type system with kings and queens and knights and courts and fiefdoms. There's a fair bit of Shakespearean influence as well. The whole history and society of Faerie is very well thought out, down to the prejudices that are bound to arise between purebloods and half-bloods. It's a little confusing in its complexity, but you just have to keep paying attention since Toby only provides information when it's relevant.
I do love a good murder mystery, and although I did clue in to the culprit before Toby did, it didn't lessen my enjoyment of the story. What really drew me in was Toby herself. I was hooked on the book by the end of chapter two, even before the actual plot kicks in, just because of Toby's voice and her character. This was a woman who had gone through hell and come out intact, just like my dear Veronica.
I don't know how Rosemary and Rue compares to other popular urban fantasies. It's my impression that their protagonists are a little less damaged and they don't normally have a fully realized fantasy world coexisting with the modern world. They certainly tend to have more cleavage-y covers. I think the strengths of the book lie in its strong noir sensibility and the fact that, as Tanya Huff mentions, the urban and fantasy are of equal importance. The two mesh so well that I find myself checking people's ears in San Francisco, wondering if I'll run into a Daoine Sidhe.
Rosemary and Rue is already quite well regarded by people more famous than I. If my descriptions of how good the book is are not enough for you, you can even read some of it yourself and see how well the prose flows. And then you can buy the book on Tuesday for a mere $7.99. It's Seanan's first novel, and she needs the sales.
You see, this is the first book in a series. The next two are slated to come out in six-month intervals already. Seanan is currently writing the fifth book. The better this book does, the more of Toby's adventures you'll get to read. And by the end of the book, you will definitely want to read more of Toby's adventures. Not just because they're bound to be interesting, exciting, and lore-conscious, but because it's Toby. She's not quite a marshmallow, but I still want s'more.