My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“ . . . and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.”
I love the epigraph, and the way the theme carries through the characters in this novel: the employees of ALH trying to form a community, Quentin trying to establish himself as a foster in a House that’s not his own, Toby still feeling the absence of her own comfortable habitation, lost and yet to be re-established; and also how bad ideas and problems and illness can take up residency in a person or a community and sow ruin.
There is a lot more to love about this book, and I will make a list for you before I start talking about the things that didn’t work for me. Awesome things in A Local Habitation: humor, discussions about consent, Toby and Quentin as buddy cops (more please!), loads of faerie, and Tybalt.
I enjoy mystery stories, but locked room mysteries are hard, because the reader either knows they’ve already met the killer or is expecting that trope to be subverted in an interesting way. While McGuire plays her hand well by keeping us guessing about the extent of April’s involvement (which also serves as a distraction from identifying the culprit), in the end I wanted the subversion, not the killer I’d already met. I wanted the big surprise, and I didn’t get it. While locked-room mysteries are often lauded for how they master the genre under the constraints of a closed system, the closed system is often what I like least about them. I like stories that move around. McGuire does a lot with the form, and subverts it by having a huge “locked room” for the characters to move around in, but in the end, they ran in circles and the futility of it became oppressive.
A Local Habitation is the second book of the series, but feels like the middle, with familiar characters even though so many of them were new. Reading it felt like a new season of a favorite show. On the other hand, the book was less satisfying than Rosemary and Rue. When I finished this book and put it down, I did not remember positive things. I remember Toby’s constant state of pain and injury and hopelessness. The shadow of loss and grief hangs heavy over this book. If it is a new season of a show, it is the season where everyone goes through the wringer and triumphs feel small. I can only hope things look a little brighter as I read further into the series. I’ve given up on shows that became joyless slogs, but I’m not giving up on Toby Daye just yet.