I’m not sure who is deciding on the titles for these novels, but I was incredibly disappointed that this one didn’t involve creatures from Norse mythology given the use of the word Ragnarok! I know there are some giant snakes in Norse mythology but the ones in this book all seem to be of Greek origin.
In this novel, McGuire shifts focus from Verity Price to her older brother Alex, who is running a hidden basilisk breeding program at a zoo in Columbus, Ohio. Up until this point, the only interaction with Alex has been through short phone calls with Verity or her descriptions of him, and he is not what I was expecting. It might be because in the first book, Verity mentioned that he specialized in “guns, guns, and more guns,” that at 6, she was better at hide and seek than him, or that he was hunting basilisks but I definitely had a total jock in my brain. I should have known better since there were also a few comments about him going to school in the sciences but for some reason, certain pieces of information stuck in my head more. As it turns out, while Alex is athletic, he is also a total nerd.
While Alex is in Ohio, staying with his maternal grandparents, to breed basilisks and learn more about the local cryptid population, to the general population, he is the visiting researcher/scientist/reptile expert at the local zoo. As part of his research, he has discovered that the local frogs are dying off due to a fungus or some type of disease, and they are being replaced by a cryptid froglike species who are resilient to the infection. As a result, he is concerned that at some point in the near future, normal scientists are going to discover a cryptid species, and this must be carefully managed to prevent hysteria in the science community. Unlike Verity, most of Alex’s work involves studying the non-sapient cryptid species and wildlife, though he also interacts with the local sapient residents. I especially liked the introduction of the Wadjet, a snake species with Indian origins, similar to the dragons in their extreme sexual dimorphism with the females appearing as human women while the males look like large cobras. Alex also works with a Pliny’s Gorgon at the zoo who serves as his assistant (there are three variety’s of gorgons in these books, Pliny’s Gorgons are right in the middle when it comes to strength).
As the novel starts, Alex’s biggest problems are managing the discovery of the cryptid frogs, and finding time for his Australian girlfriend, Shelby, another visiting researcher at the zoo with a focus on big cats. At least, they were his biggest problems until he finds a dead body in the zoo which appears to have been partially petrified. This leads to an interesting discovery about his girlfriend, the introduction of another secret society based out of Australia (but not evil like the Covenant, more of a conservationist society), and Alex’s introduction to the greater gorgon community.
While I liked the change in perspective, and as in the previous novels, quite enjoyed all the character interactions, the mystery behind the character deaths ended up being rather basic. While McGuire threw in a few interesting twists regarding the murders, in the end, it was rather straightforward. I wouldn’t have minded an extra twist or two but I guess petrified murder victim really only leaves so many choices for which species might be responsible, several of which make appearances in this novel.