"A Local Habitation" by Seanan McGuire

Pros: Lush, complex magical and societal systems and characters that I fell in love with.
Cons: Some of the magical elements meant to be mysterious were fairly easy to figure out.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

October Daye is a changeling, half fae and half human, and she’s also a knight in the service of Sylvester, the Duke of Shadowed Hills. When he asks her to check up on his daughter in the County of Tamed Lightning (otherwise known as Fremont) she figures that it will be a pretty straightforward assignment. But all is not what it seems. Although Sylvester’s daughter January runs a fantasy game company, her county is a precariously-perched buffer between Sylvester and his rival. To top it all off, there’s a murder while October is there, and that’s the third one on several weeks. Things get complicated quickly, and Toby’s going to have to think fast if she wants to protect January – and herself…


 

I have to admit, when I saw one of the cover blurbs comparing Seanan McGuire’s “October Daye” series to that of Jim Butcher’s Dresden I was a little nervous about reading it. (I only read the first two Dresden books, but the storyline felt formulaic and Dresden seemed at times to be enjoying his isolation a bit much. I can see how others would enjoy the series, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.) Having gotten my feet wet, however, I absolutely loved A Local Habitation.

The characters are unique, but at the same time I found myself getting so emotionally involved with  some of them that I actually cried at a couple of points during the book. (I can’t tell you when, or for whom, because that would spoil it for you!) Toby fits the wounded urban fantasy hero/heroine well, but at the same time she doesn’t let that keep her from engaging with others or coming to care for them. I also appreciated the way that Toby’s past mistakes haunt her without the reader being exposed to a lot of angst about something that didn’t happen in this book.

The supporting characters are fascinating to watch; January’s employees feel like what would actually happen if fae really did become computer programmers. The character concept that really blew my mind was the dryad whose tree became incorporated into a computer tree. In doing so, she’s become a lot closer to an AI construct than a living caring being. At the same time, though, it makes such perfect sense. The whole book is wrapped in such an air of believability that I found myself falling into it, eager to explore its secrets.

A word of warning is in order, however. Some of the secrets, at least for me, were easy to figure out as soon as the first clue or two appeared in the book. I initially thought that because I had put the clues together to solve the mysterious magical elements that I could also solve the other mysteries as well, but I was pleased to see that my thoughts in that regard were not correct. (For me it’s more rewarding as a reader to be partially wrong because I like to keep challenging and second-guessing myself as I read.) That being said, if the reader (such as myself) isn’t all that strong on Sidhe mythology it might be worth looking up the basics of it, because even though the book isn’t too hard to follow if the reader is unfamiliar, explanations aren’t always immediately forthcoming. Of course, I haven’t read “Rosemary and Rue”, the first book in the series, and it may also be addressed there.

The thing that fascinated me the most, however, was the fusion between the mythology of the fae and the hard logistics of computer programming. As an abstract concept, it seemed like something that might not necessarily work, but Ms. McGuire knows both her mythology and programming because the worlds felt as if they merged seamlessly. Not only that, but at the end of the book I couldn’t help but wonder what other areas of the modern-day world the fae have entrenched themselves in. And, truth be told, I can’t wait to find out! Especially since it’s not just what we typically think of fae. There are the Kings and Queens of cats, dryads, and the Luidaeg, all with their own roles to play in both traditional fae and modern human society. It’s one of the most addicting mashups of worlds that I’ve seen in a long time.

The action of the story also kept me on the edge of my seat, because there is so much more going on than immediately meets the eye. There are political and personal undercurrents underscoring the tension as Toby struggles to get her feet under her and make significant progress in figuring out how to stop the murders. As I read I had the feeling that at any moment Toby’s fragile grasp on the situation could slip, with catastrophic results. This is definitely a book that does a great job of keeping the reader in suspense.

This book has so many well-constructed layers that I got completely sucked in. I was on tenterhooks worrying about characters that I genuinely cared for, while having a blast learning about and trying to figure out a wonderfully complex set of interactions between the fae and the modern world. And while Toby is definitely an urban fantasy heroine, she manages to do it without a lot of the self-indulgent self-pity that I’ve seen in other urban fantasy series. This book made me care, laugh, and cry, and I can’t wait to see what Toby does next.

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