Today, we resume out read of Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire, who won a Hugo for Best Fancast this year. When last we left Toby Daye, she was doing everything possible to avoid everyone trying to drag her back into some semblance of her old life. But losing everything after getting turned into a fish for fourteen years took a great toll. But some things are powerful than her will alone.
To catch up or review, see Part 1 of this read.
When Toby gets back to her apartment, one of Duke Sylvester’s pages waits for her with an important message from their mutual liege. Toby doesn’t give him a chance to get out more than the first few titles the duke possesses before thoroughly informing the kid she’ll have nothing to do with his errand or the message. She closes the door gently, considering her mood, in his face and determines to get some sleep. The page, persistent and loyal to a fault, begins to knock incessantly. Toby ignores him and retreats to her room for much needed rest. But her dreams are hardly better, recalling her worst memories: the day Sylvester came for her and took her and her mother away from the human world and her father, living as a fish with no sense of her true self, and the traumas that came when Simon’s spell finally broke and she became a changeling again.
Reader Comments: Not a lot has happened in this book, and yet it’s compelling. Toby is a bit of a jerk and utterly depressed, and yet, it’s compelling. For why, read on to the writer’s comments.
Writer Comments: Why is it compelling despite the slow pacing for the first and second chapter? Emotion and sympathy propel the reader onward. We can forgive Toby for her rudeness and emotional distance because we know it comes from a well of agony and injustice and because we know she’s far more than that. We can forgive her refusal to face the real world and faerie because we know that, in the very near future, she won’t have any other choice but to deal with it again. And we can put up with her attitude because we know that, if we lost what she had, we’d be just as surly and depressed.
However, none of this can be done simply by informing the reader what happened. That’s why the prologue was so essential. The story could not begin unless we felt deeply for Toby’s losses, and to do that, McGuire had to make us understand how much she had to lose first: a fiancé, a little girl, a career, her liege’s wife and daughter, even her life itself. Toby didn’t die, but she might as well have. Dying might even have been kinder.
Then, when McGuire gives flashback in the form of Toby’s dreams, she times it at a point when we already have burning questions: What happened to the duke’s daughter and wife? Why can’t Toby get back with Cliff and her daughter, Gilly? How did the spell that turned her into a fish break? Why is she trying so hard to avoid the faerie world while still not truly engaging in the human world either? In this way, rather than weighing the story down with backstory that fails to engage, McGuire provides backstory that answers reader questions after an emotional connection has already been established with her protagonist.
When Toby wakes, she finally listens to the messages she’s been ignoring on her machine. All three are from Evening, a pureblood fae who, while Toby may occasionally hate, she trusts with her life. In ever increasing terror, Evening demands Toby pick up the phone. Then, on the last message, she binds Toby with a curse that compels her to find the reasons and person behind her murder, which Toby listens to in the next moments.
Reader Comments: It will be interesting to see how much of Evening’s death Toby blames on herself. After all, if she’d only checked her messages or left the phone’s ringer on, might Evening still be alive? Of course, regrets are a natural and compelling aspect of characters.
Writer Comment: This chapter contains the inciting incident, the event that sets the hero on a journey where she can never turn back. Especially if the inciting incident occurs later, like in this novel where it doesn’t come until the forth chapter if you’re counting the prologue as well, some sort of tension must carry the reader through. In this case, the tension comes from Toby’s inability to fully cope with her life after being turned into a fish for fourteen years and her resistance to rejoining faerie.
Thank you for joining me for this summary and commentary of chapters two and three of Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire. We’ll continue next Monday and see how Toby decides to handle her curse.