I’m still digesting this one, quite honestly. Let’s see if writing it down helps me figure out what I think! Middlegame is a novel in which time is mutable: the two main characters are living out their lives time and time again, and when they fail, time is reset back to a crucial decision point and try again and again to get the right outcome. This isn’t a spoiler — it’s apparent from the start, because the story begins at the end and jumps back.
Roger and Dodger are twins. Roger has command over language, while Dodger is a math prodigy. They were created by an alchemist desperate to prove the theories of his creator and mentor, and their whole lives have been manipulated by him to try and achieve both power and control. The question is really how exactly the twins will achieve their power and not be under his control.
Over and over again their lives touch just a little, and they speak to each other through some kind of link. Over and over again they are separated — sometimes by meddling, sometimes by being human and flawed and not good at their strange relationship. Their relationship is the center of the book, and you can’t help but root for them as they get it right and wrong and right again. I found the timeline a little difficult to follow, because I’m so bad at remembering any kind of numbers (I’m the Roger half of some equation, clearly), and that kind of impacted how I felt about the book — I found it a little frustrating that I kept losing my bearings. It’s cleverly done, though, and the full extent of what Roger and Dodger are takes some time to unfold and really become obvious; the broad strokes are fairly obvious from the beginning, but there’s still a sense of revelation as the book unwinds.
I think, in the end, I’m not head over heels in love with the story, but I think it’s well done and enjoyable. There are some gruesome bits and gore — touches of McGuire’s Mira Grant persona, in some ways — and the complex timeline combined with those is probably what brings down the rating a bit for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing what other readers I know make of it.
In this installment from the Wayward Children universe, we learn more about Lundy’s past, only briefly glimpsed before. We see her finding her door as a child, and we watch her learning the rules of the world she stumbles into: a world strongly based on fairness and trading. A Goblin Market, of sorts (though it’s not quite a retelling of Christina Rossetti’s poem, in quite a few ways). There’s something rather distant and fairytale-ish about the tone in this one, something that reminds me more of Cat Valente’s knowing narrator from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland than the other Wayward Children novellas. I’m not certain I liked that; I felt like I never really got to know Lundy, as herself, because I was always being told what to think about her.
The world is fascinating, of course; I found myself pondering whether I’m giving fair value or not in all sorts of ways, which is a rather interesting way to think. But… not quite sold on Lundy’s world or her story. The ending, leading up to her decision, felt a little rushed, and was one of the parts where it felt most like we were being told about things rather than shown them (which is not always bad writing, there’s definitely a place for it, but didn’t work for me here). That happens at the end of each section of the book, really, and it feels like being cheated of half the story (although I know the adventure parts aren’t the point).
It’s not a bad story, but definitely not my favourite.
Finally, I’m proceeding with my rereads to get on and maybe someday finish this series! This is the second October Daye book, featuring Toby and Quentin as they delve into a mystery in a neighbouring duchy. For one reason or another, Sylvester hasn’t been able to get in contact with his niece, January, and for political reasons among the other fae, he can’t go himself. Since Toby amounts to an independent contractor, sending her doesn’t count, and Quentin’s just along for the ride… so off October goes, quickly finding out that there are murders being committed at January’s computing company, and even the strongest of the fae who work there are being killed.
To me, the killer is fairly obvious all along, but then I do have the advantage of having read the book before. There are some delightful ideas and bits of fae lore here: I love what we discover about the night haunts, for instance, and the idea of a Dryad being maintained in a server after the death of her tree. There is a sense in which this book is just one continual long thrashing of Toby — if she’s not being attacked by an actual enemy, she’s being seduced by a fae who can drain her and leave her for dead; if she’s not worrying over Quentin being injured, it’s because she’s got to worry about Connor instead… But in a sense, that’s what the whole series is like.
It feels like this book could’ve been resolved faster if Toby was thinking with her brain instead of rolling around trying to avoid the next punch by instinct, and it’s certainly not my favourite of the series (though I haven’t read much of the whole series, my money is currently on An Artificial Night for that title, of the ones I’ve read before), but it’s enjoyable enough and has some fascinating stuff going on, like the idea of how to save Faerie.
I’ve been meaning to reread this for a while, but after persuading my wife to read it and watching her tear through the series, I was ready to jump back in. It’s definitely a fascinating world, weaving together all sorts of fairy lore, and while Toby is stubborn and pigheaded — and ugh, how did she ever trust and sleep with that one particular person? All the warning signs are there in freakin’ neon — she’s also someone who cares, has her own sense of honour and duty, and is willing to do whatever necessary to abide by her promises and obligations.
It’s also interesting seeing the little hints here at the beginning for things revealed in later books: there’s a lot about Toby that just isn’t revealed here, even though when you look at retrospect, there were clues.
I’d forgotten some aspects of the books — like the Luideag’s rather unexpected appearance and attitude — so the refresher was definitely needed. I think An Artificial Night is a better book (I think that’s the third?), but I wouldn’t recommend skipping this one. If you’re not into the style of this one, you probably won’t want to try the other books anyway, as Toby’s voice is much the same (albeit she rolls with the changes in some ways and updates her viewpoints).
Deadline is narrated by Shaun Mason, of whom I’m rather less fond than I am of Georgia. Not that we’re quite bereft of Georgia in this book, because she’s very much present through Shaun. Literally, at times: he talks to her and imagines her replies, and sometimes even feels her hand on the back of his neck or sees her leading him to something, etc, etc. His trauma’s pretty intense, his temper’s pretty bad, and though you can sympathise with how torn up he is, he’s also somewhat unpleasant in the way he treats his staff.
It’s a joy to get to see more of Becks and Mags, though there’s not much else about this book that you could call a joy: the hits keep on coming, from terrible revelation to terrible revelation. There’s less about politics in this one and more about the science, particularly the CDC, and I found that interesting. (And monstrous. The real monsters here are not the zombies, but the other people who perpetuate their existence.)
I was a little sad that Rick doesn’t appear at all in this book: I hope he is going to appear more in the final book of the trilogy. All in all, I’m geared up and ready to go for Blackout. Deadline does suffer a bit from being the middle book, I think, but it does have some pretty tense scenes and awesome reveals, so I’m not going to drop the rating.
I had to get this the minute it came out, of course. I was a little dubious since this is set primarily in a nonsense world, with a main character from a nonsense world, because that’s really not the sort of thing that attracts me. (Alice in Wonderland drives me wild, I really dislike it.) But fortunately the cast includes familiar and beloved characters like Kade and Christopher, and even drops in on Nancy in her world. Though I wasn’t enamoured of the world, spending more time with Kade was great, and the emotional pay off of the overall quest is pretty great.
I really want Kade to be the main character of his own story, though. It’s nice how he gets involved in everyone else’s, but… I want him to get a happy ever after, even if it doesn’t look like the others’ (i.e. doesn’t involve finding his door, since he doesn’t want to). I’d like to see Christopher get his own story, too.
Rep-wise, it’s also cool that this book features Cora, who is overweight — a fact which was an asset for her when she was a mermaid, and something she’s relatively comfortable with.
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 13th June 2017
I was really looking forward to reading this, having loved the first novella, but I was a bit unsure about the fact that it focused on Jack and Jill. To me, their story was as important to Every Heart A Doorway as Nancy’s, and it was more or less resolved as well — not like, for example, Kade or, since Kade is so sure his story is over, Christopher. There was more to say about them, and I wasn’t sure there was more to say about Jack and Jill. And… in the end, I don’t think there was much more we couldn’t have gleaned already from Every Heart. It’s not a story that I felt cried out to be told: the contradictions of Jack and Jill’s relationship were maybe better for not being elucidated.
That being said, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is still entertaining and does provide more detail on the twins’ background and the world they visited. It’s especially nice to see more of Jack and learn about her girlfriend — and to wince along with her issues with germs and dirt, which hit home for me even though the origin of the phobia is different. It’s lovely seeing the way Jack’s girlfriend deals with the issues of dating someone with such intense phobias (even if part of me is shouting “but that’s the way to make your phobia worse, not better!”).
Again, the ending didn’t particularly surprise me, even the aspect that wasn’t explicitly referred to in Every Heart a Doorway. Overall, it’s enjoyable, but I don’t love it the way I do Every Heart.
Reading this again, there are two main things for me. 1) Nancy, and 2) I love the idea of all these kids from portal fantasies finding a home away from home together. And what happens if you didn’t quite fit in your world, the way Kade didn’t? What happens if you want to go back forever, and what happens if you can’t? How can you cope with “real life” when you’ve spent however long learning the rules of another world? But I talked about this in my first review.
This time, I focused on Nancy. The fact that she’s asexual, and the fact that it avoids the usual stupid pitfalls. She cares about people, for one thing. And though you might think that it’s a bit of a cliche, having a girl who went to an underworld be asexual — of course they’re not sexual, they’re dead — it actually makes a point of mentioning that it isn’t true at all. She’s still different in her underworld; her asexuality isn’t a plot point in the sense that it proves she belongs in some other world. It’s just a part of her, and her world suits her for other reasons. The fact that she’s asexual — and for that matter, that Kade is trans — feels organic.
I love the diversity, sure, but I also love the fact that it’s matter of fact and part of a world I love for other reasons too.
My year o’ Seanan McGuire continues! I don’t know why I never started the October Daye series before, because I do really enjoy them. Sometimes October herself can be annoying — stubborn, reckless, slow to grasp things which quickly become obvious to the reader, fickle about whether it’s Tybalt or Connor she wants to sleep with… But I enjoy her nonetheless, and especially the Faerie politics and lore that underlies her world.
In this one, we get a few more glimpses of the problems in the Torquil family, and a bit of an explanation for Amandine, and some things that didn’t seem quite right about Toby herself. Also, some of Tybalt’s quiet hints start to make sense, as does the Luidaeg’s dark mutterings. May Daye continues to be fun, while developments from An Artificial Night are also used to advantage. Characters from the earlier books appear, and some misunderstandings and old grudges are straightened out — somewhat.
In other words, it’s another fun outing with Toby which builds well on what’s come before. There’s some tragedy, too, which Toby is powerless to avert — a good lesson for the hero, and a warning to the reader that nothing is entirely safe, I think.
Received to review via Netgalley; release date 30th April 2017
This seems to be the year of Mira Grant aka Seanan McGuire, for me. I started the year with Rolling in the Deep, and I’ve read a couple of other Mira Grant and Seanan McGuire books since. Final Girls is what you’d expect of the Mira Grant half of the persona: a little horrifying, psychological, more towards the realistic speculative fiction end. This one examines the idea of a system that drugs people into receptivity, puts them into a simulated situation, and thus fixes their hangups and flaws. Sisters who hate each other can become friends, and lasting friendships can be forged based on fictional scenarios of blood and sacrifice and horror. It doesn’t even have to be that realistic: it just has to feel real.
One of the main characters, Esther, is sceptical about the truth of all this. It seems too good to be true, especially since her life was severely impacted by the false conclusions of people who went through regression therapy. As you’d expect, things go wrong.
Grant/McGuire’s writing is as good as usual, and the conclusion to the plot comes as a bittersweet surprise. Something is salvaged from the situation, but there’s a lot of damage along the way. Because it’s a novella, it doesn’t do more than hint at the long-term effects of the technology it explores. Instead, we experience it, its failures and its saving graces, through the characters. It works well.