Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Review: A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire

A Local Habitation is the second novel in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, and her second published novel out of, to date, twelve novels (ignoring her other published works) under two different names. That’s quite remarkable when you realize that, as of writing this, less than three and a half years have passed since the publication of her first novel, and conventional publishing wisdom once held that if an author published more than a novel a year, they would over-saturate their market and alienate their audience by competing with themselves. Stephen King (presumably among other authors that I know less about) challenged this wisdom in the 1980s, at one point publishing 4 successful novels within a single year in 1987, and since then outstanding authors like Seanan McGuire have had their chance.

Most of this has little to do with A Local Habitation, other than the fact that it was published months earlier than it would have been in previous decades, and the fact that it’s led to other novels that I look forward to reading. If you haven’t guessed by now, A Local Habitation is another good book by Seanan McGuire featuring half-human, half-Faerie (specifically, Daoine Sidhe, possibly the darkest-themed Fae mentioned yet in the series) detective, now out of retirement. I wouldn’t say it’s quite as good as Rosemary and Rue, for a variety of small reasons, but it’s a good sequel, and Toby is one of those characters that you can’t help but want to meet, again and again.

For the past couple of reviews, I’ve been discussing the merits of mysteries of different sorts within novel plots, seeing as how both Talon and Toby are detectives by trade. A Local Habitation is an example of one of those mysteries where putting enough plot elements in the book for it to be solved logically- in other words, making it so that the reader can follow along with the mystery- can result in the reader solving the mystery well enough before the character in question that one can spend the entire novel arguing with the protagonist about it. I suppose this was necessary in the case of A Local Habitation- it’s a Clue style murder mystery that stops introducing suspects right around the time that it becomes clear the mystery needs to be solved. Aaaaand as the suspects are physically eliminated, one by one, and the only ones left are the ones that conclusions have been drawn about… yeah, it’s not too hard to see by that point. Even if I was arguing with Toby that process of elimination is not evidence and it turned out to give her the right answer after all. Still, of the three other facts that needed deducing, I figured them out about five chapters in and waited for Toby to catch up for the rest of the book.

That fact does hurt A Local Habitation‘s ranking, at least compared to its superior predecessor. The predictability of parts of the mystery, and the fact that we didn’t get to learn much more about Toby, make this the lesser novel in a way that feels as though it’s content being a sequel. This was only the second sequel that McGuire had written- or at least, published- so I can’t begrudge it all that much. This doesn’t make for a bad book, but what it does mean is that it doesn’t hold a candle to her other works that I’ve read.

As for the characters, we mainly follow along with returning cast October Daye, star of Rosemary and Rue, and Quentin, a Daoine Sidhe adolescent, along with a host of new characters which of course dwindle as they’re picked off throughout the book. In fact, they’re picked off at such a rate that Conner and Tybalt of Rosemary and Rue are forced to take up the reins of supporting characters within the mystery. While it is nice to see them both again, the fact that neither of them does anything that particularly requires it to be them- other than Tybalt having a conversation with the local cats, that is- indicates that they could have been a pair of original characters, adding depth to the mystery and making the success at catching the culprit a little bit more meaningful, by actually saving a pair of lives. As it is, you get the distinct impression of the police showing up on the scene too late, with not enough to go on, and as a result catching their man too late to do any good but on time to punish them for it. True, the same events could have continued on somewhere else had Toby and Quentin not arrived, but the pickings were pretty slim in Tamed Lightning by the time the story wraps up.

If it sounds like I’m being a little harsh on this novel, it’s true. I tend to come off as nothing but complimentary with McGuire’s work, so when I find a novel with flaws in it, I want to be clear that that’s what they are. It goes without saying that Seanan is a terrific character writer, a subtle plot artist and an extremely vivid storyteller; every time she puts finger to keyboard this is clear. What I want to be equally clear is that, while being a good book by a great author, this isn’t a great book. It’s still better than Timecaster, though- let’s say a 4/5, even though I don’t usually numerically rate novels.

Once again, if you like mystery and slightly morbid fantasy with a hint of action, you’re gonna want to check out Seanan McGuire’s A Local Habitation. The characters- the main ones, anyway- are vivid and fun to be with, the plot is engaging and suspenseful, even if not as suspenseful as it seems to the protagonist who is apparently way too close to the situation to draw certain conclusions- and the action and story are entertaining. Just read Rosemary and Rue first, both because it introduces the characters, and because it’s just a better book.

1 comment:

Pabkins said...

Well you can't help but be hard on it even if you do like it. I felt the same way when I read Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs...I felt I was being hard on it. I still thoroughly enjoyed it - but I picked ya know.
Pabkins @ My Shelf Confessions