A Local Habitation
by Seanan McGuire
October “Toby” Daye is a changeling, the daughter of Amandine of the fae and a mortal man. Like her mother, she is gifted in blood magic, able to read what has happened to a person through a mere taste of blood. Toby is the only changeling who has earned knighthood, and she re-earns that position every day, undertaking assignments for her liege, Sylvester, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills.
Now Sylvester has asked her to go to the County of Tamed Lightning—otherwise known as Fremont, CA—to make sure that all is well with his niece, Countess January O’Leary, whom he has not been able to contact. It seems like a simple enough assignment—but when dealing with the realm of Faerie nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Toby soon discovers that someone has begun murdering people close to January, whose domain is a buffer between Sylvester’s realm and a scheming rival duchy. If Toby can’t find the killer soon, she may well become the next victim.
Seanan McGuire, who also writes as Mira Grant, is one of my favourite authors, and I’d been meaning to try her October Daye series for years when I finally read Rosemary and Rue near the end of 2018. I’ve mentioned before that I love a bit of urban fantasy when I’m in the mood for it, and my reading tastes have changed recently; when I was younger I was never particularly drawn to books about the fae, and now I really enjoy them.
I picked up A Local Habitation when I was in the mood for something quick and fun, and while it was a fairly quick read I’m sorry to say I didn’t have a great time reading it. In fact, for the most part, I found this second instalment in the series very frustrating.
Duke Sylvester asks Toby to check in on his niece, Countess January O’Leary, who hasn’t been returning any of his calls. This is particularly worrying because she’s the countess of a small duchy caught between Sylvester’s realm and a rival duchy. When Toby arrives, she finds a small team of fae, led by January, who work in computing and are currently terrified, because something, or someone, is killing them off.
I can’t knock McGuire’s writing style. These books are so readable, which is one of the things I love about the urban fantasy genre, but sadly I found A Local Habitation fairly boring. The only reasons I didn’t DNF it were because I wanted to continue with the series and because it was so easy to read that I could blast through it.
Considering this book tackles the idea of trying to balance magic with technology I expected to love it, but I didn’t find the setting of this computing company inspiring at all. Characters were constantly walking down corridors and in and out of offices and I feel like McGuire was trying to go for that modern Gothic feel, to make her characters feel trapped in this space while someone kills them from within, but because Toby could leave and go and stay in a hotel, I never really felt like she was trapped.
Also, Toby simply wasn’t very good at her job in this book. She and so many other characters made incredibly stupid decisions throughout the novel, such as constantly wandering off alone when they knew there was a good chance they’d die, or it would take Toby an age to reach a conclusion the reader had reached months before, and it was so annoying.
For example, Sylvester sends Toby to check in on January because she hasn’t been returning his calls. When Toby mentions this to January, January claims she’s been leaving messages and her uncle hasn’t been answering her calls. It takes Toby AGES to realise that someone’s been tampering with the phone lines. I know Toby doesn’t really understand technology – which makes me wonder why Sylvester chose to send her on this mission in the first place – but come on. That’s so obvious!
Another little niggle of mine is that everywhere Toby goes, men want to sleep with her. I love that she’s a woman who’s sexually active and doesn’t apologise for it, and I know that urban fantasy is a genre that relies on romance and sex almost as much as it does on fantasy, but I’d much rather watch Toby be a PI than anything else.
I wasn’t a big fan of McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway either, mostly because I hated the whodunnit (it was so obvious whodunnit!), and I’m starting to get the feeling that while she’s a brilliant SFF writer, and her world-building in particular is fantastic, she’s not a particularly strong mystery writer. That’s not ideal when the heroine of your urban fantasy series works as a PI.
In fact I’ve noticed that I tend to enjoy the work McGuire writes as Mira Grant much more than what she writes as Seanan McGuire, but I am still going to continue with this series. When I was looking at reviews a lot of people who love this series mentioned this book is their least favourite, so I’m hoping things will only get better from here!