Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
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Off The Shelf

A Local Habitation
by Seanan McGuire

Review by Rob Wynne

October "Toby" Daye is not your average private eye.  The changeling daughter of a pureblood Faerie mother and a human father, she lives uneasily between two worlds that lie superimposed upon one another in modern day San Francisco -- two worlds she wishes would each just go away and leave her alone.  In A Local Habitation, the second book in the ongoing series, she discovers once again that no matter how long she ignores it, Faerie is going to keep coming around, rattling her doorknobs and tapping at her windows until she pays attention to it.  In Toby's world, the supernatural is not separated from us by crisp walls of shadow; rather, it sloshes over the levee of reality and collects in giant pools all around us, making it difficult not to get splashed no matter how hard you try.

In Seanan McGuire's debut novel, Rosemary and Rue, which introduced us to our reluctant heroine, the plot works at dual purposes, propelling Toby down blind alleys in order to help establish the principles of the universe and establish the byzantine relationships they have with both her and each other.  This time around, McGuire is free to plunge her protagonist headfirst onto a roller-coaster of a mystery that starts steeply downhill and doesn't stop picking up speed until it reaches its explosive and astonishing conclusion.

Duke Sylvester, the regent of Shadowed Hills, sends her on what appears to be a relatively straightforward diplomatic mission to discover why his niece January, the ruler of the small and bitterly contested County of Tamed Lightning, has stopped responding to his messages.  What she discovers when she arrives there is ALH Computing, a supernatural software shop run by an eclectic assortment of faerie geeks:  programmers, systems administrators, and business managers, who are attempting to integrate magic and technology in a variety of new and interesting ways.   Unfortunately for Toby, before she can make contact with the Countess and report back that all is well, someone turns up dead, and she quickly discovers that he isn't the first and won't be the last.

Throughout the surprising twists and turns of  this novel, McGuire pulls off what is, to my mind, one of the most difficult tricks in fiction:  she writes a "fair" mystery in a supernatural setting.  As Toby investigates the murders at ALH, all the clues necessary to solve the puzzle are put in place, and a sharp reader might even make some of the connections required before she does.    The action unfolds at a brisk, sometimes breakneck pace, which creates a wonderful sense of tension and dread as, one by one, suspects are eliminated, and no one remaining seems safe.

In the center of it all, complaining bitterly the entire time, is Toby Daye, a remarkably flawed, complex antihero who inspires you to alternately cheer her on and want to slap her silly.  In a genre populated by unflappable protagonists who never blink in the face of danger, Toby is willing to admit, to herself if not always to others, when she's in way over her head.  Sometimes, she lets herself break down and cry.  She cheats, ducks, sidesteps, and sleight-of-hands death on numerous occasions, but she stubbornly pursues what she sees as the right path, and she doesn't overlook the terrible cost she ultimately pays for her victories.

A Local Habitation is a delightful continuation of the October Daye series, and in many ways improves on its exceptional predecessor.  With luck, we'll be seeing a lot more of Toby, and Seanan McGuire, in the future.

A Local Habiation by Seanan McGuire was released by DAW books on March 2, 2010.

Read an excerpt from the novel.

Review © 2009 by Rob Wynne

Rob Wynne is a systems administrator, writer, and musician who lives in Alpharetta, Georgia.  He has been the webmaven for Aphelion since 1997.

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