Series: InCryptid Series
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—5; Sensuality—4; Humor—4
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
NOVEL 2: Midnight Blue-Light Special
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 Amazon.com page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
NOVEL 3: Half-Off Ragnarok
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:
Besides the Basilisks, Frickens, Cuckoos, and Pliny's Gorgons, several other cryptids play various roles in the novel:
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 Griffin—a cross between a raven and a Maine Coon cat.
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 between—and 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. To read or listen to an excerpt from Half-Off Ragnorak, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com 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 specialist—but not a fighter, so his "adventures" are not very adventurous. Rather than striding into danger, he usually stumbles into it—which 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 infestation—or 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 does—they just ignore them. The Society's attitude leads into the main theme of the book—that 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 cryptid—a relative of one of the characters in Half-Off Ragnarok—is 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 Australians—all of them except Shelby—are 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 book—Chaos Choreography—when 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 Amazon.com page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
NOVEL 5: Chaos Choreography
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.