Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire (DAW Books, September 1, 2009)
I wanted to like R&R very much--because I've known seanan_mcguire for years, like her, and wanted to like her first novel.
Fortunately, this wasn't hard -- Rosemary and Rue is a fun, character centered urban fantasy detective novel, densely populated with people who have their own histories, and (as befits a novel about the fey) is filled with fairy tale allusions like "A goose girl up in lady's clothes" (and plenty of others where that came from, but I lost my book on the way to work, so I can't hunt for them. woe).
The story is written in first person, and October ("Toby") Daye, the heroine of the novel, is a a lot of fun to listen to. The setup -could- have her as an angst-puppy, whining about her life...but she doesn't. Instead, as we eventually see, she's an established hero--with relationships, a reputation, a good measure of self confidence, and, while she's not strong enough physically to avoid the genre-common parade of scenes where she's beaten up, knocked out, or otherwise massively discommoded, she's certainly got a fair complement of powers.
All that said, while it's certainly a thread running through the book, this isn't a powers book--and while there's a central detective story, it isn't primarily a detective story either. Toby's faerie magic isn't (in this novel, anyways) combat useful--instead, it makes her better at what she is already good at (e.g. being a detective). Enough better, in fact, that aside from the several attempts on her life in the progress (and some other complications I'm not going into), Toby's progress toward solving the mystery is straightforward--she has appropriate magic, and once she has time to breathe, she used it in the right way to get the answer (not that the magic is easy--magic in this book--as is proper for a novel with as many faerie themes, is rarely easy or without complications).
So, if it's not a mystery, what kind of book is it?
A character one, mostly. This book has a truckload of characters--and just when you're figuring it's getting crowded in there, Seanan drives up with the second truck. And the writing is good enough that it doesn't make you feel overwhelmed--there's a complex weave of relationships among the cast, some of which Toby's aware of, some not so much, so new additions to the cast drop into the lattice of this novel's relationships and are immediately accessible--particularly since for every person new to Toby, there's at least one who has a history and a story to go with it. And as much as the mystery and its solution is straightforward, the way it turns on and impacts the relationships among the cast is anything but. Even the denouement (which caused me to more or less reread the entire book) hangs on the relationships and character-building throughout the book. The worldbuilding, too, is very cool--with the faerie culture having a nice mix both of original and traditional elements (rather like the rest of the book, really), and the oaths--traditional Celtic symbolism mixed with ideas from the created faerie culture, are a very nice touch.
And while the story is wrapped up here, there are plenty of intriguing loose ends leading into the later volumes of the series--there are plenty of plot hooks and intriguing possibilities left open.
Overall? It's a fun, beautifully written, rewarding urban fantasy that I intend to reread and recommend--not to mention hunt down the other books in the series as they come out to find out what happens next!