I’ve been immersed in serious literature, academia and non-fiction lately, so when the library found me a copy of Discount Armageddon, I promptly put everything down to read it. To be honest, my reading relationship with McGuire’s works has been problematic, so this was escapism of the basest sort. While I find a number of her ideas fabulous, her heroines are often inexplicably stupid and the world-building inconsistent. So understand, if I had any expectations of Discount, it was that McGuire would alternately interest and annoy; to some extent, those expectations were met. However, because McGuire seems to take herself and her protagonist less seriously than in her other series (October Daye, the Newsflesh series), it ended up being a fun, diverting read.
Verity Price comes from a family who has dedicated themselves to studying and protecting the non-human ‘monsters’ of the world, otherwise known as ‘cryptids‘ (the book jacket actually does an accurate summary here). The tone starts ominously as Verity stakes out a nightclub with her telepathic cousin to hunt a ghoul with a taste for people. One glaring oddity of the book ensues when Verity lets the ghoul off with a ‘no-more-human-flesh-and leave-my-city-or-I’ll-kill-you’ warning, despite earlier referring to him as a ‘serial killer’ and having–ahem–disposed of fifteen young women.
The tone changes, quickly developing into lighthearted fun when Verity awakes the next morning to Aeslin mice celebrating the union of the Noisy Priestess to the God of Things That It Is Almost Certainly Better Not to Be Aware Of, otherwise known as the anniversary of Verity’s grandparents getting together. Although she’s provided them with a luxurious Barbie Dream House in the closet, their celebrations have a way of intruding into the living space of the tiny NY apartment. The mice and their ceremonies become a delightful refrain through the book, serving to keep the tone light and providing a connection to Verity’s upbringing. They did bring Men In Black‘s Grand Central locker creatures to mind (“All hail K“), but that’s okay, especially when the Feast of Washing Out Mouths with Soap was mentioned. Adorable, and only excessive when they celebrated the very obvious Holy Feast of I Swear, Daddy, I’ll Kiss the Next Man to Walk Through the Door.
McGuire’s habit of telling and not showing is in full force, but it mostly works, especially as the first book in a series. At least as Verity is a ‘cryptozoologist,’ it includes interesting species profiles and NY commentary. Curiously, after the ghoul and another species that resembles a flying bat-ape, the remaining cryptids we meet are neutral and sentient creatures who display generally human traits and non-flesh-eating tendencies. With roots in a number of world folktales, they are all fascinating, and include a medusa, dragon princesses, Indian gods of honey/plenty and a waheela, a sort of wolf-bear. Verity has made contacts with many by working at Dave’s Fish and Strips(!), a strip bar and cryptid haven run by a bogeyman(!). Although I was a little annoyed by the UF trope of waitress heroine (and shades of Sookie), neither Verity nor McGuire takes the strip club seriously, and we are not treated to titillating descriptions of thinly veiled misogyny.
The tone is generally humorous, but avoids the overwhelming snark that ends up sacrificing character emotion and is so problematic in the UF genre. Characters seem relatively robust, with perhaps the exception of the Covenant agent. My only complaint would be that they are somewhat young in their certainty of their worldview, paving the way for a couple of plot tropes. Verity is certainly callow and overconfident–after all, this is her first time living on her own–but nothing developmentally inappropriate (forgive me, young readers). In other words, when she blows her cover in a moment of indignant pique, and generally trusts to training and hormones a bit more than someone with more life experience and sense, I was not particularly surprised nor bothered by her lack of logic.
Aside from setting the ghoul free, there were perhaps a couple other of false notes. One was a contrivance that prevented any family help, basically an acceptable set-up, if somewhat at odds with the earlier story. Second was a spoilery thing. Although I saw that plot point a mile away, I’m thankful McGuire avoided the over-angsty indecision that some books base their entire story on. A note regarding style: each chapter starts with a quote, and then a line describing the location, a device that seemed unnecessary.
Despite those problems, it remained a fun read, with lots of embedded humor. It was the perfect vehicle for McGuire’s creative creature-building. At about 3.5 on my star scale, I’ll be looking for the sequel.
“Cryptids like to live where humans don’t, but they also like to be close enough to steal cable.”
“Yeah, wow. I didn’t know people actually paused portentously in common conversation.“
“The Argentine tango isn’t here to play nicely with the other children. The Argentine tango is here to seduce your women, spill things on your rug, and sneak out your bedroom window in the middle of the night.“
“‘Telepaths have ethics?’ Dominic’s eyes narrowed, tone and posture united to convey his disbelief.
‘My mother and I do,” said Sarah, letting her head settle against the back of the chair. ‘We mostly got them from Babylon 5, but they still work.‘”
“Your average bugbear can set an apartment building on fire trying to make a bag of microwave popcorn. It’s either a supernatural power, or they are really, really dumb about technology. Possibly a little of both.”
“There was a long pause before Alex spoke again–long enough for him to count silently to ten. I know that pause very well. He’s been incorporating that pause into basically every conversation we’ve had since I turned twelve.“
And finally, the one that appealed to my biologist heart:
“Mother Nature is a freaky lady who probably created pot just so she could spend all her time smoking it.“