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Friday, March 23, 2012

Seanan McGuire: INCRYPTID SERIES

Author:  Seanan McGuire
Series:  incryptid
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality4; Humor4
Publisher and Titles:  DAW
  NOVELS:
     Discount Armageddon (3/2012)(narrator: Verity)
     Midnight Blue-Light Special (3/2013)(narrator: Verity)
     Half-Off Ragnarok (3/2014)(narrator: Alex)
     Pocket Apocalypse (3/2015)(narrator: Alex)
     Chaos Choregraphy (2016)(narrator: Verity)
     Novel 6 (2017)(narrator: Antimony)
     Novel 7 (2018)(narrator: Antimony)     

     SHORT STORIES: McGuire has also written a number of short stories set in the InCryptid world. Click HERE to go to a page on her web site that contains more information about those stories, many of which have links for free downloads. 

     This post was revised and updated on 4/15/14 to include a review of Half-Off Ragnarok, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels.  

           NOVEL 3:  Half-Off Ragnarok           
     The first two novels were set in Manhattan and voiced by Verity Price. This third novel is set in Columbus, Ohio, and voiced by Verity's brother, Alexander. Alexgoing by the alias of Dr. Alexander Prestonis posing as a visiting research herpetologist at the Columbus Zoo's Reptile House. That job allows him the flexibility to focus on his cryptozoological projects: working on a Basilisk breeding program and studying and classifying the local population of Frickens (feathered frogs). While Verity specializes in city-dwelling cryptids, Alex's cryptids are swamp-dwellers. 


Fricken
     Unlike Verity, who leaps from one tall building to another, Alex spends his time wading through brackish marshes, sliding down muddy riverbanks, and handling poisonous snakesvery carefully. One series theme that percolates in the background is the fact that civilization is moving in on the cryptids of America (and the world). In the case of the Frickens, normal, non-cryptid frogs are dying off from various fungal infections and the Frickens are moving in and multiplyingtaking the frogs' place in the local food chain. Alex worries that "the formal discovery of the Fricken would lead to a whole new school of scientific study….It would completely change the way the world looked at amphibians, which would, in turn, change the way we looked at reptiles. It was unavoidable, and becoming more so with every year that passed. That was what made my work so important. If this was going to happen, we were going to try to control it.  (chapter 4)

     Currently, Alex is living with his maternal grandparents and his cousin Sarah in a suburb of Columbus. If you read the previous novel, you will remember that Sarah injured her mind very badly when she rescued Verity from the Covenant. Although she is finally showing faint signs of recovery, her mind is far from normal and she cannot be left alone because she sometimes can't even remember who she is.    

     The supporting characters (human and humanoid) in the novel are as follows:      

     Deanna Lynn Taylor de Rodriguez ("Dee"): Alex's assistant: Dee is a Pliny's Gorgon with snakes instead of hair. She and her family can petrify you (i.e., turn you to stone) if she looks directly into your eyes with both her human and serpent eyes. Their venomous bite can also petrify you.  

     Shelby Tanner: Alex's girlfriend is a visiting researcher from Australia. She trains big catslike tigers and lions, and she has some very interesting deep, dark secrets.    

     Grandpa Martin: a Revenant who is "a construct of formerly dead body parts that has been successfully reanimated through one highly unpleasant mechanism or another." (chapter 2)  

     Grandma Angela: a Johriac (aka cuckoo), like Sarah; Cuckoos are telepathic hunters who appear human, but they are closer to insects than to humans in their internal workings. 

     Besides the Basilisks, Frickens, Cuckoos, and Pliny's Gorgons, several other cryptids play various roles in the novel:  

COCKATRICE
     Cockatrice: a venomous, featherless cryptid that is about the size of a large chicken. The gaze of a Cockatrice causes instant petrification and death. Basically, you turn into a large, stone statue. Here is Alex's description: "about the size of a wild turkey, with a pointed, reptilian head that shared more attributes with a small predatory dinosaur than it did with a modern bird. Its teeth were a jagged sea of points and tearing surfaces….feathers started about halfway down its neck…and continued all the way down its birdlike body to the long whip of its serpentine tail…Only its leathery wings were completely devoid of plumage." (chapter 16)

LINDWORM
     > Lindworms: Here is Alex's description: "The creature's head was flat and spade-shaped. It looked like an oversized, armor-plated skink with attenuated limbs sprouting from a body that had somehow been stretched beyond all reason. Spikes stood up in a vicious-looking line along its back, their razor edges gleaming…" (chapter 1)

     Wadjets: These are cobra-related cryptids. The male remains in giant snake form, while the female resembles a human woman.

     A holdover from the first two novels is the gang of Aeslin mice who consider all members of the Price family to be gods. Their presence is always good for some hearty chuckles as they holler "Hail to the God of Scales and Silence" to Alex when he brings them cake and cheese. Another fascinating cryptid is Crow, Alex's pet Church Griffina cross between a raven and a Maine Coon cat.

     The plot develops into a murder mystery when someone begins murdering zoo employees and then begins attacking Alex and Shelby. When Alex realizes that all of the victims were killed by petrifaction (i.e., being turned to stone), he tries to narrow down his cryptid suspects: "Let's talk about things that can turn you to stone." (chapter 5) That's the beauty of this series. A sentence like that is just part of normal conversationnothing out of the ordinary because EVERYTHING is out of the ordinary! At one point, after they are attacked by a vicious, out-of-control Lindworm, Shelby murmurs "That poor sweet baby…" when she learns that the Lindworm was in extreme distress because its eyes were partially petrified. Alex is so overcome by her unexpected empathetic reaction to the Lindworm that he nearly asks her to marry him because he has never met a woman who fits so perfectly into his weird lifestyle.

     Although the characters in this series deal with dark villains, dangerous situations, and multiple murders, the tone is somewhat whimsical and light. Unlike most urban fantasy heroes and heroines, they aren't running around trying to save the world from an ancient evil power. The Price family is like a supernatural-style PETA or Greenpeace in that they study and protect the cryptids and try to keep others from harming them. Unlike PETA, though, they realize that sometimes a cryptid is too dangerous to exist and it is their job to end its life.

     I have to agree with many other reviewers that Alex is not as charismatic or as interesting as Verity. He is a nerdy herpetologist who works mostly alone with his snakes and amphibians, and his interactions with other people (human people) are few and far betweenand mostly work-related. Although he arms himself with multiple weapons, we mostly see him fleeing rather than fighting. Shelby is far more feisty, but in this book, she doesn't do much but toss out a few snarky one-liners every once in awhile. The next novel will also feature Alex as the protagonist, and I'm hoping that his blossoming romance with Shelby will pull him out of his nerdy shell. I recommend that you read this novel in sequence. You will not fully understand the significance of Sarah's current mental condition if you haven't read Midnight Blue-Light Special.

           WORLD-BUILDING           
     This terrific new series follows a human heroineVerity ("Very") Pricethrough her busy life as she works as a cocktail waitress; competes in ballroom dancing contests; and protects, defends, and polices the supernatural world of Manhattan. Supernaturals in this world are called cryptids, defined in the introduction as "any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proved scientifically." The cryptids range in size and shape from tiny mice to a gigantic dragon, with all sorts of wild and weird creatures in between. The mortal world is, for the most part, unaware of the cryptid community, but many cryptids hide in plain sight amongst humans by maintaining humanoid forms. Click HERE to go to a illustrated Field Guide to Cryptids on McGuire's website to view the colorful drawings and interesting facts about the various species.

    Verity has been trained in defensive arts since she was a child, and she is also a talented cryptozoologistspecializing in the anatomy, physiology, and sociology of cryptids. Many years ago, Verity's grandparents, Alexander and Enid Healy, belonged to the Covenant of St. George, an organization that hunts down and kills all cryptids. The Covenant believes that any creature that wasn't present on Noah's Ark is an unnatural monster that must be destroyed. When Alexander and Enid questioned the morality of killing innocent cryptids who had done no harm, they were punished. Eventually, they fled to America, where they settled in Oregon to raise their family. To this day, the Covenant is still trying to track down Verity's family and punish them for their "sins against humanity." 

    When Verity is dancing, she hides her identity behind a pseudonym and a wig so that there is no chance that the Covenant will find her. Under her "Valerie Pryor" identity, Verity is somewhat famous. She took second place on the Dance or Die TV reality show and has won a number of local dance contests. Dancing means everything to Verity, but she knows in her heart that she must eventually give it up to concentrate solely on her cryptozoology career. She can't get too famous, or she'll risk exposure to the Covenant's wrath. 

     McGuire has written a number of short stories that feature the previous generations of the Healy and Price families. Click HERE to go to a page on McGuire's website with information on accessing these stories, including links to the free downloads:


     Jonathan Healy and Francis Brown (circa 1928)
          "The Flower of Arizona" in Westward Weird (2/2012)
         "One Hell of a Ride" (free download in various formats)
         "No Place Like Home" (free download in various formats)
         "Married in Green" (free download in various formats)
         "Sweet Poison Wine" (free download in various formats)
         "The First Fall" (free download in various formats)
         "Loch and Key" (free download in various formats)
         "We Both Go Down Together" (free download in various formats)

     Verity Price and Dominic De Luca (circa 2012)
          "The Ghosts of Bourbon Street" (free download in various formats)

       Antimony Price (circa 2013)
         "Bad Dream Girl" (in Glitter and Mayhem, 8/2013)
         "Blocked" (free download in various formats)
         "Jammed" (in Games Creatures Play, 4/2014)

       Istas and Ryan (circa 2013)
         "Red as Snow" (in Fiction River: Hex and the City, 12/2013)
         "Black as Blood" (free download in various formats)

     Click HERE to read my review of McGuire's great OCTOBER DAYE series.

           NOVEL 1:  Discount Armageddon       
     As the series opens, Verity has talked her family into allowing her to come to New York City to develop her ballroom dancing career and to supervise cryptid life in the City. Here, Verity explains her connection with the cryptids: "Most of my nondance hours were devoted to serving, studying, and supporting the cryptid community. Sometimes the only way to serve them was to keep them from drawing too much attention to themselves, and, in the case of the nonintelligent predatory species, that could activate the second part of my job description. Not "cryptozoologist": monster hunter. I'd try relocation first, and if that didn't work....I'd avoid more final solutions for as long as I could. That was the best that I could offer." (p. 42) 

BOGEYMEN
   To earn a living, Verity works as a waitress in a sleazy bar called Dave's Fish and Strips, which is owned by an equally sleazy bogeyman named Dave. Verity is physically fit and fond of the outdoors, so she maneuvers around the city by climbing walls and fire escape ladders and running and jumping from roof to roof in a technique called free running (similar to parkour). One night while running across a rooftop, she is caught by a snare set by a Covenant hunter, the first Covenant member she has ever met. He is Dominic DeLuca, and the two of them begin snarling at each other as soon as they meet (so you know immediately that they must be soul mates).

    When Verity learns that cryptid females are disappearing off the streets, she thinks that Dominic has killed them. Dominic, in turn, believes that the females have fled the city because Verity has warned them of his presence. They soon learn the truth lies elsewhere. The story follows the couple as their investigation takes them deep into the sewers where they are attacked by weird lizard men. The situation gets even stranger when rumors begin to circulate that a dragon is sleeping under the city. Dragons have supposedly been extinct for hundreds of years, so Very and Dominic decide to work together to get proof of the dragon's existence. As they spend more time together, their physical attraction gets stronger and strongerand you know where that story thread winds up!

    This is a fresh and inventive series with interesting characters and a well-paced, compelling story line. McGuire is a wonderful story teller, as you know if you've read her OCTOBER DAYE series. Verity is an intelligent modern woman and an extremely competent fighter. She's one of those urban fantasy heroines who can handle almost any type of weapon with dexterity, and she's well armed at all times (e.g., guns at her waist, knives on her thighs, bow and arrows in the hallway, ax on the dresser). McGuire does a great job portraying the emotional pressures caused by the duality of Verity's lifeher deeply protective feelings about the cryptids and her whole-hearted love for dancingall the while knowing that she can't continue to have both. She's determined to prove to her family that she can live a successful independent life, but she's also torn between duty and personal fulfillment.

    Dominic matches Verity's weaponry skills and gives as good as he gets in their frequent debates (aka arguments) about whether to kill the cryptids or protect them. The supporting characters are very well developed, particularly Sarah, Verity's adopted cousin, who also lives in Manhattan. Sarah is a cryptida cuckoo. Here is Verity's definition of a cuckoo: "They are the perfect ambush predator, capable of blending into crowds...without leaving so much a a ripple to track them by. They look human on the outside and their particular brand of telepathic camouflage means that even when you cut one open, if it's still breathing, you're still going to see what the cuckoo wants you to see, rather than whatever's really there." (p. 130)

AESLIN MICE
    The funniest of the cryptids are the Aeslin mice who share Verity's apartment. They look and act like the cartoon mice in Disney's Cinderella, and their lives are spent celebrating one festival after another, mostly commemorating mundane events from the past years of Verity's life. The mice are supposed to be living in a refurbished Barbie condo in Verity's closet, but they're usually roaming around her apartment, crying, "Hail! Hail! to the Priestess!" They're talking about Verity, who is the most reluctant "priestess" you've ever met. This series is starting out strong, and I'm really looking forward to the second book.


           NOVEL 2:  Midnight Blue-Light Special           
     As the story opens, Verity gets some extremely bad news from her Covenant boyfriend, Dominic DeLuca: The Covenant is sending a team of agents to determine if New York City is ready to be purged of all cryptids. This news is terrible on several levels. First and foremost, will Dominic side with the Covenant or with Verity? Also extremely critical: How will Verity warn the Manhattan cryptid population in time, and how can she possibly protect them on her own? The answers to these questions make up the majority of the plot, but we also get a fascinating story line involving Verity's adopted cousin, Sarah, who is a cuckoo. We learned a bit about cuckoos in book 1, but in this book we learn much, much more. Sarah plays an intrinsic role in this story, even narrating four of the chapters in her own voice.

     Once again, Verity shows off her talents as an over-the-top urban fantasy heroine: stashing weapons in every imaginable place on her body; fighting off bad guysboth cryptid and human; leaping from building to building as she races across the city; negotiating constantly with various hostile cryptids; and still managing to keep her romance with Dominic alive and hot. Verity is obviously a pure fantasy character, but she's so courageous and likable and engaging that it doesn't really matter that she's too good to be true. You just keep turning the pages—compelled to read on to the end of this terrific book.

     This story is a rollicking adventure from beginning to end as Verity takes on the Covenant thugs (including a distant cousin) and tries to keep Manhattan safe for her cryptid friends, some of whom have trouble accepting human help, particularly from a member of the Price family. McGuire excels in character development, and her story line about Sarah is powerfulfull of pathos and heartbreak to be sure, but also showing the strength and unequivocal love of the Price family for all its members, whether they be related by blood, adoption, or friendship.

     The final steps in the development of the Verity-Dominic relationship are fascinating as we watch Verity being torn between trusting Dominic and fearing that he will betray her to the Covenant. As the story plays out, Verity must make some serious decisions about her life. Here, she has a rare moment of grave introspection: "As a professional dancer, I was on the cusp of failing. At the same time, The Covenant of St. George was in my city, I'd been forced to go into hiding to avoid having them find me, and I had no game plan for getting rid of them. As a cryptozoologist, I wasn't doing much better. All I could really swear to doing correctly was being a member of my family: too pigheaded to know when I was beat, and too contrary to admit when it was time to run away....No matter what, I was a Price girl. And if there's one thing no Price girl has ever voluntarily done, it's back down from a fight." (p. 153) By the end of the book, Verity has resolved all of her issues: her ballroom dancing career, her cryptozoologist career, and her romantic relationship.

     This is a great follow-up to book 1, and it could be read as a stand-alone because McGuire provides quite a bit of world-building information in the early chapters. My recommendation, though, is to start at the beginning of the series to get the full effect of the character development. The third book will turn away from Verity and focus on her brother, Alexander.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished this book and LOVED it...cant wait to see the second one!

    ReplyDelete