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Friday, March 23, 2012


Author:  Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant)
Series:  InCryptid Series
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality4; Humor4
Publisher and Titles:  DAW
     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 Choreography (3/2016)(narrator: Verity)
     Magic for Nothing (3/2017)(narrator: Antimony)
     Tricks for Free (3/2018)(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 ongoing post was revised and updated on 4/11/17 to include a review of Magic for Nothing, the sixth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first five novels.  

                       NOVEL 6:  Magic for Nothing                       
     This is the sixth book in Seanan McGuire's witty urban fantasy  InCryptid series about a family of cryptozoologists who act as a buffer between humans and the magical creatures living in secret around us.

               Improbable, adjective:
                  1. Not very likely to happen; not probable.
                  2. Probably not a very good idea anyway.
                  3. See also “bad plan.” 

     As the youngest of the three Price children, Antimony is used to people not expecting much from her. She’s been happy playing roller derby and hanging out with her cousins, leaving the globe-trotting to her older siblings while she stays at home and tries to decide what she wants to do with her life. She always knew that one day, things would have to change. She didn’t think they’d change so fast. 

     Annie’s expectations keep getting shattered. She didn’t expect Verity to declare war on the Covenant of St. George on live television. (See the World-Building section of this blog for a description of the Covenant.) She didn’t expect the Covenant to take her sister’s threat seriously. And she definitely didn’t expect to be packed off to London to infiltrate the Covenant from the inside…but as the only Price in her generation without a strong resemblance to the rest of the family, she’s the perfect choice to play spy. They need to know what’s coming. Their lives may depend on it.

     But Annie has some secrets of her own, like the fact that she’s started setting things on fire when she touches them, and has no idea how to control it. Now she’s headed halfway around the world, into the den of the enemy, where blowing her cover could get her killed. She’s pretty sure things can’t get much worse. Antimony Price is about to learn just how wrong it’s possible for one cryptozoologist to be. 

     For the first time in the series, we get a book written in the voice of Antimony Timpani Price (aka Annie, Timmy, Timpani Brown). We have met her in other novels in this series, but have seen her only from the perspective of Verity and Alex. Annie's relationship with Verity has always been hostile and fraught with tension and suspicion. As Annie puts it, "Verity never learned to appreciate how her actions could affect the rest of us...didn't understand consequences. I loved my sister. I was never going to learn to like her." Annie views Verity as the "golden girl"—the star of the show who does whatever she wants, no matter what the cost to her family. And no matter what Verity does, all of the family members forgive her—except for Annie. When Verity outs the Price family and declares war on the Covenant of St George on national television in the climactic scene that ends Chaos Choreography, Annie is furious because even though Verity has endangered her family and the entire North American cryptid population, the family not only forgives Verity, but sends Annie off to infiltrate the Covenant, an assignment that could very well lead to her death.

  Annie is a fascinating character whose multi-layered personality comprises self-deprecation, wry humor, an off-beat worldview, and unpredictability—a combination that keeps the reader glued to the page, wondering how she will wriggle out of each uncomfortable and dangerous situation in which she finds herself. In addition to hiding her true identity from the Covenant, Annie also has to hide her newly developed pyrokinetic powers (probably inherited from her grandfather), a handy talent to have...if she could just learn to control it. (She hasn't even notified her family about this new development. The only other "person" who knows about it is her ghostly Aunt Mary, who is trying to help her get her fiery powers under control.)

     The first part of the book shows us Annie in her roller derby environment, the place in which she is most comfortable. Then the scene shifts to England, where she meets the members of the Covenant and is seemingly successful in convincing them that she is the orphaned victim of a cryptid massacre—an attack that killed all of her family members—all members of a traveling carnival. When the Covenant learns that several teenagers have gone missing near another traveling carnival—currently in Wisconsin—they decide to send Annie into that carnival to determine if the missing kids were taken by cryptids. If so, they plan to kill everyone associated with the carnival (both humans and cryptids) because they believe that ALL cryptids must die along with ALL the humans who are (supposedly) enabling the cryptids' existence, even if the humans were never aware that the cryptids were living in their midst.

     Once Annie gets the American carnies to accept her, she begins a relationship with Sam Spenser, the grandson of the carnival's owner, only to discover that he is actually a half-breed fūri (a type of yōkai, which is a Japanese supernatural entity). Sam's mother, who deserted him when he was an infant, was human, while his unknown father was a full-breed fūri. Sam and Annie develop a trapeze act and slide into a nascent romance that includes some passionate kisses and an off-the-page consummation. Annie muses "We'd learned to fly with each other, instead of only always flying alone." Eventually, Annie realizes that the carnival does, in fact, have several cryptids on their staff, and one of them is responsible for the disappearances of the teenagers.

     Meanwhile, Annie makes herself at home with the carnival. She learned trapeze, trampoline, and knife-throwing tricks as a teenager when her family dropped her off at a traveling carnival back in her teenage years (she is now 22), so she is familiar with the life. In fact, it feels more like home to her than her real home does. Annie has always believed that her family looks down on her—that her parents' feelings of love and admiration for Verity and Alex are much stronger that their feelings for her. Unlike her family members, the carnies fully accept her, with no criticisms of her sometimes-flamboyant appearance and behavior. They admire her performance talents and her willingness to work hard at everything she does.

     Obviously, with the Covenant involved so deeply in the plot, you know that things are not going to end well, and that is definitely the case here. The explosive ending leaves us with a cliffhanger that will lead into the next novel. This actually feels like the first book in a duology: The Adventures of Antimony Price, Part 1: Duplicity and Desire.

     This is one of the best novels in the series so far. Antimony is a terrific character—strong-willed, smart, well trained, and independent (to the extreme). Her bittersweet, burgeoning relationship with Sam is beautifully written. Annie lets herself fall for Sam even though she knows in her heart that they can't possibly have a future together (or maybe they can—stay tuned). Sam exemplifies the huge success that McGuire has achieved in building her cast of cryptid characters. Each one is unique in genetic history and in lifestyle. Sam is charming, smart, talented, and a bit sad because his life is tied completely to his grandmother's carnival and because he has to live with the knowledge that both his parents turned their backs on him. When he trusts Annie and then learns of her deceptions, he is nearly broken—but not quite. At this point, Sam is one of my favorite characters in the series.

     Adding a welcome note of humor to the story are two Aeslin mice who accompany Annie on her global adventure: Mindy, who is Annie's personal mouse—the one who knows every detail of her life—and a new mouse she calls Mork, one of a small group living secretly in the walls of the Covenant compound in England. I always love the mice ("Hail!") in every story, and these two are exceptionally entertaining. 
     I highly recommend this book to fans of the series and to newcomers. Although it's best if you read it in the context of the previous books, you could probably enjoy it as a standalone (but you wouldn't completely understand some of the references to past events). To assist readers, McGuire has added the "Price Family Field Guide to the Cryptids of North America Updated and Expanded Edition" at the end of this book. To read or listen to an excerpt from Magic for Nothing, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Magic for Nothing is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own. 

     The first two books in this terrific new series follows a human heroineVerity ("Very") Alice 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 an 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. In addition, she is a nationally ranked competitive ballroom dancer. 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." The third and fourth books in the series feature Verity's older brother, Alex, and the sixth and seventh books star her younger sister, Antimony.

    When Verity is competing in dancing contests, she hides her identity behind a pseudonym and a bright red 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, 22-year-old 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) 

   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 as 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)

    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. To read or listen to an excerpt from Discount Armageddon, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                       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. To read or listen to an excerpt from Midnight Blue-Light Special, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                       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.

     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 whom 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: 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)

     > 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, 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 SpecialTo read or listen to an excerpt from Half-Off Ragnorak, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                       NOVEL 4:  Pocket Apocalypse                       

     When a werewolf epidemic hits Australia, Alex Price agrees to accompany his girlfriend, Shelby Tanner, to the Outback to help her family stop its spread. Alex isn't thrilled to be heading off to a strange land to fight monsters, but he'll do anything for Shelby, even conquer his long-standing fear of werewolves. Alex is nowhere near the intrepid warrior that his sister, Verity, is. He is a nice guy, a smart man, a nerd, a lab geek, a research specialistbut not a fighter, so his "adventures" are not very adventurous. Rather than striding into danger, he usually stumbles into itwhich makes him a likable character, but not a very exciting one, particularly in comparison to his sister.

     In this world, werewolves are not a separate species. As Alex explains to Shelby, "Werewolves don't exist as a species. They're individuals infected with the lycanthropy-w virus, which we believe started as a…form of rabies….Anything mammalian can be infected with lycanthropy-w, although it's extremely rare for anything or anyone weighing less than ninety pounds to survive the first transformation, which tends to limit its living victims to humans, humanoids, and large mammals like horses and bears. Nonmammalian cryptids, like wadjet or cuckoos, can't be infected." The virus is spread through bites, blood, and saliva and eventually ends in death. After being exposed to the virus, the victim remains normal in appearance for 28 days before shifting for the first time into the werewolf form. Werewolves in their transformed state are killing machines. They are extremely strong and absolutely remorseless as they feed and spread the virus. NOTE: Pay particular attention to these details because they play a key role in the story.

     A big part of the story involves Alex's hostile reception by Shelby's family.  When Alex introduces himself to Shelby's sister, Raina, this is her response: "We didn't invite you, we don't need you, and we don't want you here." Then Alex meets Shelby's tough and arrogant father, Riley, who demands "proof you are who you say you are" and nicknames Alex "Covenant Boy." The Tanners do not trust Alex for a variety of reasons: because he is a Price, because one set of his grandparents were once part of the Covenant, because his other set of grandparents are cryptids, because he is an American, and especially because he wants to marry Shelby (who is next in line to lead the Australian cryptozoologist group, which calls itself the Thirty-Six Society). The Tanners grudgingly allow Alex to stay because he is the only one who knows how to mix up a cure for the lycanthropy-w virus.

     Both Shelby's family and Alex's family call themselves cryptozoologists, but the Society, under Riley's leadership, actually considers all cryptids to be monsters, while the Price family befriends most cryptids and hunts down only the bad ones. The Society totally ignores the local cryptid population, not even bothering to warn them about the werewolf infestationor about any other supernatural problems in the area. As an Australian cryptid explains to Alex, the Thirty-Six Society rejected the Covenant because they "didn't like the idea of killing everything that already lived here. They sort of went 'Adam and the Garden' conservationist. Taking care of all the poor, misguided unprotected animals that needed the benefit of their wisdom and experience and firearms." Their protection, though, has never included cryptids "that were capable of talking back." Basically, the Society members are a narrow-minded, arrogant lot whose bigotry has made them persona non grata among the local cryptids. In fact, they are almost as bad as the Covenant in their attitude toward cryptids. The only difference is that the Australians don't kill all cryptids like the Covenant doesthey just ignore them. The Society's attitude leads into the main theme of the bookthat we should all look out for one another and treat each other with respect even when some of us have very different genetic configurations.

     The only nice "people" in the book are the cryptids. Along with his clothing and weapons, Alex packs six of his Aeslin mice in his suitcase, and they are truly the stars of the story, bringing humor, pathos, and their own special religious fervor to an otherwise grim plot. It turns out that the mice have some serious talents that prove to be extremely helpful as a traitor emerges within the Society and the werewolf virus continues to spread. Another cryptida relative of one of the characters in Half-Off Ragnarokis a doctor who comes to the Tanners' rescue time and time again. She has multiple medical degrees and lives a quarter mile away from them, but Riley and his group have never even met her. 

     Although the plot is exciting, the Australiansall of them except Shelbyare so disagreeably rude and wrong-headed that they deaden the excitement in every single scene. They always have something horrible to say to Alex, and at one point Raina even blames Alex for the entire werewolf infestation. I got sick of the Tanners and their friends very early on because they sapped all of the entertainment from the story, leaving only a bitter aftertaste.

     The whole lycanthropy-w element is interesting, but weird. It was hard for me to picture sheep and horses turning into werewolves, even with the graphic descriptions. Still, it's a change from the usual werewolf stereotype.

     If you enjoyed Half-Off Ragnarok, you'll probably like this book, but if you are a fan of Verity and Dominic, don't miss the next bookChaos Choreographywhen we head back to the U.S.A. for some new adventures with Verity and Dominic. To read or listen to an excerpt from Pocket Apocalypse, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                       NOVEL 5:  Chaos Choreography                       

     Verity Price is back on the West Coast and getting back into the swing of the family business: cryptozoology. She's rescuing cryptids from bad situations, protecting them from monster-hunters, and generally risking life and limb for the greater good, with her ex-Covenant partner/husband, Dominic, by her side. Her ballroom dance career is behind her...or so she thinks. 

     When Verity gets the call from the producers of Dance or Die, the reality show she almost won several years before, she finds the lure of a comeback impossible to resist, and she and Dominic are off to L.A. for one last shot at the big time. 

     Of course, nothing is that simple. When two of her fellow contestants turn up dead, Verity will need every ally she can find—and a couple she wasn't looking for—in order to navigate the complicated steps of both the tango and a murder investigation without blowing her cover. It doesn't help that her official family backup is her grandmother, Alice Price-Healy, who thinks "subtle" is something that happens to other people. Winning this competition may have just become a matter of life and death.

     The first chapter is a short story about a plesiosaur that is living in a Portland, Oregon, reservoir. After the creature attacks Verity and Dominic, they subdue it, only to have a run-in with the college students who stole the egg from an archaeological dig in Kansas and brought it home to hatch it and see what happened next. This little adventure has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the book, but it certainly is entertaining.

     Now for chapter two, where the real story begins: Verity and Dominic are living with her family after their recent elopement to Las Vegas. They are both hiding from the Covenant, which believes that they are dead. Then, Verity—actually her alter ego, Valerie Pryor—gets an e-mail from the producers of Dance or Die, the TV reality show that made her famous several years ago when she was trying to succeed in building a career as a competitive ballroom dancer. They want her to come to Los Angeles to perform in an all-star season of the show. She would have six weeks to get herself back in shape and then would spend the next two months living in the dancers’ dormitory, practicing all week and filming on Thursday nights. The top four dancers from the past five seasons will be competing for the big prize: two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, a magazine feature story, and a year’s paid rent on a Manhattan apartment. Verity loves the idea of a year of free rent in Manhattan, and Valerie loves the idea of going back to dancing, so—with Dominic’s approval and support—both sides of her dual personality accept the offer.

     Once the two get to LA, we get lots of scenes involving reunions with old friends, the inevitable personality clashes among the dancers, lots of strenuous practice sessions, and some sneak-aways for conjugal visits to Dominic (who is staying in a hotel under the pseudonym David Laflin). The real trouble starts on the first elimination night when one of Valerie’s friends—Pax, a Ukupani (a shape-shifting shark from Hawaii)—discovers the bodies of the first eliminated couple brutally murdered in a sea of blood with ritualistic carvings all over their bodies. Then the bodies and the blood disappear into thin air. To make things even worse, nobody on the set seems to remember the couple or wonder where they went or why they didn’t take their possessions with them.

     When Verity sends her father photographs of the crime scene, he does some research and sends Verity some back-up support in the form of her grandmother—the infamous Alice Healy Price. That’s Alice on the book's cover—the short blond on the right. Verity describes her grandmother as "a heavily tattooed dimension-hopping marauder who regularly carries grenades clipped to the belt of her cut-off jeans" and "the most dangerous human woman in four dimensions." No one knows how Alice maintains her youthful appearance, but it probably has something to do with decades of jumping from one dimension to another searching in vain for her missing husband, Thomas. Alice moves into an empty apartment in the dancers’ dorm, and the team begins to investigate. In addition to Verity, Dominic, Alice, and Pax, there is also a shape-shifting chupacabra named Malena.

     The scenes alternate between Valerie’s emotional dancing experiences and Verity’s stealthy sleuthing adventures. Early in the book, Verity learns that the ritual markings on the bodies correspond to those attributed to snake cults that use human sacrifices to raise gigantic snakes from other dimensions. Valerie’s scenes include lots of emotional interactions with other dancers, while Verity’s scenes involve sneaking around in the basement of the studio searching for missing bodies and trying to figure out the identity of the snake cultists. As the bodies pile up, the suspense builds.

     Verity’s explanation of other-dimensional snakes adds a few details to the world-building: “So think of our dimension as one cell in a really…big honeycomb. It’s touching a bunch of other realities, all sort of parallel, all sort of not. What you get is determined by what direction you go…If you’re traveling on the horizontal…you get humanoids, things that look like life in this dimension, but aren’t necessarily the same…If you’re traveling on the vertical, you get things that aren’t humanoid, but are statistically more likely to be like the people in this dimension—empathic, intelligent, friendly. And if you travel on the diagonal, you get weird sh**. Frequently snakes…Because there are so many snake dimensions, people have run into them at various points throughout history. And because humans are sometimes predictable in bad ways, there are always people who think summoning a giant snake from another dimension will help them get their heart’s desire.”

     McGuire also adds a secondary story line involving the LA dragon nest. Brenna, one of the LA dragons, is the host of Dance or Die. Her nest has no males, so they want Verity to intercede with the Manhattan dragon nest so that they can purchase one of William’s sons and bring him to LA. (William, a dragon friend of Verity’s, played a major role in the first novel, Discount Armageddon.) For an explanation as to why the LA dragons need a male in their midst, take a look at the updated and expanded "Price Family Field Guide to the Cryptids of North America," located at the end of the book.

     As always, the Aeslin mice scamper through the entire story—popping out from within the walls and shouting, “Hail the Arboreal Priestess as they await Verity’s orders for their next mission. They call Alice “the Noisy Priestess” and  "the Pilgrim Priestess," and they call Dominic “the God of Hard Choices in Dark Places.”

     As much as I enjoy this series, I have to say that this book is not nearly as interesting and fun as previous books have been. For one thing, there is a bit too much technical chatter about the specifics of competitive dancing. Also, Dominic comes across as a tag-along sidekick instead of being Verity’s equal partner. While Verity continues to be her usual kick-ass self, Valerie indulges in a series of angst-filled interior monologues bemoaning the fact that her love of adventurous cryptozoology has eclipsed her love of the dance. To me, those scenes came across as overly emotional and inauthentic. Finally, there is the ending, with villains popping up all over the place, and with only one of them being a surprise. All in all, I’d have to say that this book felt rushed and roughly constructed—more like a mid-way draft than a finished product. Some parts were great (e.g., the mice, Alice’s shenanigans), but other parts just didn’t work for me (e.g., the first chapter that doesn’t connect with the rest of the book, the too-quick ending).

     To read or listen to an excerpt from Chaos Choreography, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

1 comment:

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