Urban fantasy has some common mainstays: a magical world lying next to ours (whether or not the mortals know it), a mystery to solve, usually by a character who is marked by both worlds.
I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy series in recent years, but nothing has quite grabbed me as tightly as the October Daye novels. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s nary a vampire nor werewolf in sight, or that October, Toby to her friends, routinely survives things that should kill her. Just when she gains some ground on a case, things get worse.
Craft-wise, McGuire has an excellent handling of exposition. She cloaks explanations of politics and world mechanics in cranky exchanges where the imparting character disdains Toby’s ignorance. This method helps her get the essential information across without taking the story out of the first person. McGuire draws heavily on Irish fairy lore, never leaving out the downright bizarre. She veers a bit into Kim Harrison’s turf with her take on pixies in the first book, but she quickly recovers and distinguishes herself by focusing on more intriguing elements.
As a half-breed changeling, Toby is too fay for the mortal world but will never be pureblood enough to live happily ever after with the fairies. While she’s a knight with a powerful liege lord, her own magic is so faint that’s she’s regularly overpowered. Her allies are often compromised, with conflicting obligations and motivations that make them less than trustworthy. McGuire hooked me right away with an early, outlandish twist in book one. She soon followed it up with a shooting scene that captured the sense fading life better than anything I’ve read. The stakes stay high and nothing comes for free. Toby bleeds a lot, and she often loses it all, giving you the sense that she’s not going to make it. This keeps the tension high, and when she gains traction, whether in her case and her personal life, you just know it could all fall apart without a moment’s notice.
Like a lot of series, the tension peaks though the books keep going. The first five books weave and resolve multiple threads, leaving Toby with an important dilemma in the sixth that just can’t feel quite as crucial. That’s no fault of McGuire’s, and you simply can’t sustain crisis levels of tension (Harrison hit a similar plateau in her ninth Hollows book, which made the tenth a bit of a letdown). Plots aside, McGuire gets better and better at her craft. While I found the plot of the second novel, a Local Habitation, the weakest, she’s redeemed it by incorporating the mystery’s outcome into her ever-expanded world. Book three, an Artificial Night, is outright spooky.
I picked up the first book, Rosemary and Rue on a whim, like I often do with books and once I started I couldn’t put it down or stop recommending it.