Roger and Dodger are twins skilled in two separate fields: language and mathematics. Roger understands language: its nuances, its layers, its multitudes. Dodger understands mathematics: its rigor, its structure, its flow. Together they encompass the world, and their “father”, Reed, intends to shape them into gods whether they want to or are ready. Together, Roger and Dodger endeavor to discover themselves and their purpose in a world that either wants to control or destroy them.
When I first heard about Middlegame, I was immediately excited. A fantasy novel that centers, at least in part, around math? Sign me all the way up! (I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in math, and desperately search for math in fantasy.) However, the fantasy systems in the book were severely lacking. I found the descriptions of math and the mathematical process to be dull and uninspired. There was quite a bit of Dodger “scribbling numbers on white boards” and muttering to herself like we see in every movie about a math genius. Likewise, the treatment of a magic of language also was boring. Initially, Roger’s language mastery is simply knowing a lot of synonyms but eventually grows into just knowing a lot of languages. If two characters are going to be imbued with the magic of mathematics and language and have that fact be central to the plot, I want to be wowed by those systems. I want there to be wonder and excitement. Instead, we got surface level exploration. There is some application of these skills sprinkled throughout the book, but there is no sustained explanation or use of this magical system.
The best part of the book is the relationship between Roger and Dodger. Their relationship is layered. It grows strong and is torn apart. They heal and hurt each other. Their individual journeys compliment their journey together.
Be warned that McGuire does use some non-linear storytelling devices. At first, this was very distracting and difficult to follow, but eventually I think that the device is used successfully. Perhaps I would benefit from a reread now that I know the fully story.