I managed to grab a pole and ease myself into the nearest empty seat before I fell, doing my best to keep my back away from the wall. It's rude to get blood on the seats. (185)This was the main book for Vaginal Fantasy in September, and I HATED the alt—my thoughts on the alt, Darkfever, are here—so I'm really glad that I enjoyed this one so much. I'm currently on book eight in this series, and it just keeps getting better. (More of those reviews to follow.)
October "Toby" Day was on a mission from her liege to find his kidnapped wife and daughter when she was unexpectedly turned into a fish and left for dead. It would have been even weirder if Toby wasn't part of the fae world, although she is a changeling so she's not a pureblood fae. After fourteen years as a fish, her fiance and daughter have moved on without her, and so has the rest of the world; Toby decides to retreat from the fae world and work a normal mundane job at Safeway. But that plan goes remarkably off the rails when an old fae frenemy, Evening Winterrose, is murdered and as she was dying tied Toby up in an unbreakable oath to figure out who killed her. Now Toby, against her own better judgment, returns to the fae world and other places from her past to figure it out.
I LOVE this series, although this first book is definitely the weakest of them. I liked the tie-ins with Shakespeare—each of the books has a title that derives itself from Shakespeare, and a lot of the characters have names in common with Shakespeare's characters. I was compelled enough by the worldbuilding and by Toby's character, and her real-life issues—even though she's from faerie—that I kept reading while there were still problems with the writing and plot. The fact that Toby works in a Safeway, and then actually loses her job when she doesn't show up for work because she gets sucked into the mystery with Evening, was very real. I've read a lot of urban fantasy books, and fae characters who have regular jobs always seem to be able to keep them, even with long stretches where they're not showing up for those regular jobs. So it was nice to see that moment of reality.
I also thought the depression that Toby is experiencing, after spending fourteen years as a fish and losing basically everything about her life, was a relatable feature of her struggle. She does some incredibly self-destructive things, but I think that makes sense with what she's going through. (They discuss in later books how Toby is kind of on a passive suicide path, not really caring about what happens to her.) She also goes back to an incredibly unhealthy relationship, but I understood that compulsion as well. After all, if you've lost everything, I would imagine that it would feel very tempting to return to something familiar and comfortable, even if you know it's not good for you. I think this is especially true given even the little bit about Toby's past that we find out in this book, about her kind of transient childhood and her feeling of lack of belonging. I can understand how that would feel amplified after her ordeal as a fish, and make that longing for familiarity even stronger.
Even with the funk that she's in, I appreciate Toby's sense of humor and her sarcasm. Basically, I feel like I'm only some fae blood away from being Toby—or I wish that was the case, anyway, that I'm as clever and pithy as her.
For the most part, I actually liked that things weren't explicitly explained about the fae world. Sometimes that can be irking, not enough explanation, but I also think because so many of these concepts are familiar from other fantasy books, and/or easily searchable, it allows us to skip the long moments of exposition and data dumps that sometimes happen.
There were also little tidbits like the fact that Toby's cats are called Cagney and Lacey. Love that. I liked that it was set in the Bay Area, having recently spent a few years there myself.
And where can I get me a rose goblin? Because I need one.
As was discussed on the forum extensively, this book definitely suffered from first-book problems. The plot was quite circular, and you really never felt like you were gaining any ground. Particularly towards the end, Toby was getting almost fatally injured at least once a chapter, which just isn't sustainable.
One of McGuire's strengths, though—at least in my mind, because I like this style of writing—is that she'll drop a small (or large) mystery in your lap, and then won't resolve it until books later. There are definitely some seeds that are planted in this first book that are still waiting to be brought back, and I love it. I love a slow burn like that.
As previously mentioned, this is definitely not the best book in the series, but it introduced me to Toby and her fellows, so it will probably always hold a special place in my heart. I strongly recommend for anyone interested in faerie stories and/or urban fantasy.