I love that it took me a while to discover Seanan McGuire — it means that I have a bit of a backlog that I get to enjoy before I really start chomping at the bit for new releases. That being said, I would like sequels to Middlegame and a new Indexing book as soon as possible please.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Like most books by Seanan McGuire, Middlegame starts out super weird, and it took me a little bit to figure out what was going on. Once I had a slight grasp on things, I enjoyed it immensely and could not put it down. So it’s about these twins named Roger and Dodger. Roger has an instinctual knowledge of words and Dodger has an instinctual knowledge of numbers. Despite the fact that they are twins, they’ve never met. They were separated at birth by mad scientists who created them with the intention of controlling the universe. Separated, they are incredibly good at one thing and less so at everything else. Together, they can literally change the universe. They finally meet when one day, Roger realizes that Dodger is in his head. After they realize they’re not crazy, they figure out that they can see each other’s worlds by peeking through each other’s eyes. Their relationship changes and grows over the years as external forces that they’re barely aware of try to keep them apart. Other sets of twins exist like them and we get glimpses into their lives at times. But Roger and Dodger are really the main focus here.
“People who say “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” don’t understand how words can be stones, hard and sharp-edged and dangerous and capable of doing so much more harm than anything physical.”
The mad scientists here are following an alchemist’s plan to control the world. Her plan is written into a children’s story about two kids searching for a place called the Impossible City. Imagine if a small section of the world was reading The Wizard of Oz or the Chronicles of Narnia as a a literal map, and a blueprint for total domination — that’s basically what’s happening here. The nature of the twins — the love of words in one, the love of numbers in the other — combines to give them power over these things. Roger can speak words that turn into commands. Dodger can manipulate numbers to warp time and place. But they’re normal kids being raised in the world (the cuckoos, they’re called) and they stumble upon this magic accidentally, piece by piece. It’s just such a cool story. McGuire’s own grasp on language makes it a rich and terrifying world. The mad scientists aren’t something from a kiddie story — they’re cruel and dangerous.
Indexing (Indexing #1) and Reflections (Indexing #2) by Seanan McGuire
In Seanan McGuire’s Indexing, fairy tales aren’t just real — they’re real and they’re out to get you. Luckily, there’s the ATI Management Bureau, an organization made up of agents who watch for ripples in the world that indicate that a fairy tale is “going active” — while trying to keep their OWN fairy tale tendencies under control. They’re like the Men in Black, but for children’s stories and nursery rhymes.
“That’s the nature of stories. No one ever gets to know the entire thing. We just get to know the parts we have to deal with right here, right now. Before they rip our throats out.”
The team we meet consists of Henrietta “Henry” Marchen (a Snow White), Sloane (an evil Stepsister trying her best to resist her nature), Jeff (a cobbler elf), Dani (a Pied Piper) and a normal guy named Andy who’s just trying to live his life, y’all. Whenever a crime occurs that has something a little…unusual about it, Henry and her team are called out to set things right. A weird flu making everyone fall asleep? Woodland creatures running rampant downtown? A little boy on top of a roof convinced he can fly? The ATI locks it down.
The first book (which was apparently released as a serial, although I read it all at once) introduces us to the characters and the world. The second books dives much deeper into the lore — McGuire examines the links between different versions of the same story. The way that a fairy tale like Snow White changed over time is amazing. There are so many versions of it, and in this universe where stories hold such incredible power, those variations can be deadly.
The fairy tale aspect of this was awesome — McGuire knows her stuff. It reminded me a lot of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. Tons of references to other works, lots of clever callbacks. But the standout here is the writing. Sloane in particular is so snarky and bitchy on the surface, but as soon as we get to know her better, her character has so much depth and pain.
“Sloane sauntered into the observation room like she didn’t have a care in the world, and scowled when she saw the coffee cup in my hand. “I came for coffee,” she said. “If you have consumed all the coffee, I am going to straight-up fucking murder you, and drink a latte out of your skull.”
The back and forth between the team is great, too. In the second book, we’re introduced to a “Bluebeard’s wife” — one who has (so far) resisted the urge to look behind his locked doors. But that doesn’t keep her from being able to unlock any other door…
“You’re a handsome one, aren’t you?” she cooed. “So strong and sturdy. What a good hasp you must have; what a firm sense of your purpose. But you’ve been holding your place for so long. You can’t be expecting to stay closed forever. Why, that isn’t fair! The people who put you here don’t appreciate you the way I do. They don’t understand how difficult it is to be a lock, and do the things you do. I would appreciate you always. I would never leave you alone in the rain to rust.”
“Are we watching a woman try to seduce a lock?” asked Andrew. “I’m not objecting if we are — your kink is okay and all — but I just want to confirm that everyone else is seeing what I’m seeing, here.”
Very smart, very funny writing.