I've reviewed this book before at the Nameless Zine, back in November 2017, when I started working through the October Daye series that I'd bought and had Seanan McGuire sign at Westercon 68 in San Diego. I've now finished and reviewed all thirteen books thus far in what has become one of my favourite series of all time. I'm reviewing again because DAW has reissued it in the form that these books tend to see release nowadays: in a hardback edition, with a bonus novella that both adds something of relevance to the novel and provides more background.
I won't say too much about 'Rosemary and Rue' because I've already said most of what I want in that original review. What I'll add is that, as McGuire's debut novel, it stands up very well. She's definitely a better writer today than she was only a decade ago in 2009, but she was a good writer back then. Sure, the core mystery isn't particularly deep, but she created a wonderful world that she's still exploring and expanding today without it ever seeming like one trip to the well too many.
I'll talk more about the new novella, which is called Strangers in Court. As is appropriate for the introductory novel for Toby Daye, a lost girl, misfit changeling and cursed investigator, it goes further back than I believe the author has taken us into her past. In a particularly neat trick, McGuire has the balls to gift us with not just one key moment in Toby's life but two.
In 'Rosemary and Rue', which ostensibly follows Toby as she's forced to look into and solve the murder of Lady Evening Winterrose, we notably don't come in at the beginning of her story. We're told who her mother is and who her liege lord is, but we don't meet the former yet and we get little background about the latter. We're told that Toby left Faerie, railing at the prejudice that's default for creatures of mixed blood, and took up with Devin in Home, but she'd already left by the time the book begins. We're told that she's an able private investigator, but that ends soon after this book starts, turned into a koi for fourteen years.
Of course we're going to leave with questions and the succeeding books have done and continue to do a fantastic job at answering many of them. However, the history and mythology is so deep that there are still questions that we have wondered about for years and not yet seen answers to. This novella sees two more of those questions crossed off our respective lists.
One is the way in which she left Home, because it's made clear that it's not an easy thing to do. While Toby has a habit of doing things that are simply not done, I've often wondered at how she managed to get away with this one. Now I know.
The other has hung over the series with a deeper shadow because it's a more important detail and that's how Toby, a changeling, came to be knighted. We haven't known Toby at any point before she became Sir October Daye, but the author has never explained how that event came to pass. Again, now we know.
I'm glad that these novellas, one per book and occasionally a few elsewhere in anthologies, are becoming a standard thing for Seanan McGuire novels. It has to be said that she's one of those authors who always leaves us wanting more, so actually having something more that isn't just a teaser chapter for another book, which naturally isn't out yet, is a big deal. Some of them are flimsy and cute, like one that explored how a couple of Aeslin mice got home in an InCryptid book. Others, like this one, recount particularly important moments and answer long-standing questions. Either way, they're a win. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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