They’re after me again. The librarians. I’ve tried, oh, I’ve tried, but they are tenacious and pertinacious and indefatigable (sometimes you can appease them with big words). But if I have any hope of maintaining my connection, I had better return Midnight Blue-Light before they cut me off from my supply. I’ve been hanging on to it for weeks, not knowing exactly where to go with my review. Midnight stars Verity Price, a younger member of a clan that studies the things that go bump in the night (and during the day) and attempts to maintain peace between monsters and humans. She’s in New York at the crossroads of her early twenties, weighing the value between the family profession and her love, ballroom dance. She’s spending time with her adopted cousin Sarah, a cuckoo (a non-human species, but not the bird), and dating a guy playing for the other team (no, not that one), Dominic. Trouble starts when they learn his employers are coming to New York to purge the monsters–and the Price family.
InCryptid is by far my favorite series by Seanan McGuire. The bubble-gum atmosphere works well, allowing her creature-building talents and clever integration of folklore to shine. McGuire’s very imaginative–anyone can borrow from fairy tales, and many authors realize their ‘monsters’ need someplace safe to get patched up–but how many think of lining hospital walls with posters on Gorgon hygiene, or nursery murals of cartoon monsters and humans playing together? Its those little extras that help differentiate a well-thought out world and make for an enjoyable escape.
The tone works for the clever quip and pop-culture allusions the urban-fantasy genre seems unable to resist. It works well with Verity’s character, a person who’d rather be a bit of the bubble-headed blonde if she could get away with it, but is able to drop the pretense in a crisis. She gives the reader a little background on her prior employer: “I mean, really, it was all going pretty great until Dave decided to sell me to a snake cult before skipping town. They say nobody’s perfect, but there’s having a few flaws, and then there’s selling your employees as human sacrifices.” Then there’s her description of Sarah’s species: “They just kill, and destroy, and break things for the pleasure of seeing the shards come raining down. Oh, and they do algebra. For fun. Their universal fascination with higher mathematics may be the least human thing about them.” When she calls her new boss, she has some advice: “Okay, you have got to stop answering the phone like that. You sound like you’re running a bordello, not a perfectly respectable titty bar.” For those who read the first book (not really necessary), there’s more in-depth exploration of some of the earlier characters, particularly the Aeslin mice and Istas the waheela (With Religious Questions). Sarah gets a chance to shine as well, and I hear the next in the series will feature her.
There is a romantic sub-plot, and McGuire deserves applause for her handling of the tension between the leads. Rather than go the more stereotypical “lovers’ quarrel” plot (fight-estrangement-moping-reconciliation-sex), she has the two confront a potentially divisive issue and continue to work together despite occasional doubts and misgivings. Imagine! Role-modelling communication! It was a pleasure to have a relationship plot-line that didn’t dominate everything else, but was instead integrated into the problem-solving.
McGuire pulled a fast one on me, however, and about a third of the way into the book, the tone became more serious as Verity started to truly own her mission. At one point, Sarah’s voice took over the narrative for a little while. While it was a bit of a shock, it ended up working well; Sarah’s more serious tone allowed the narrative to be more congruent with the action and emotional involvement. One complaint would be the rushed ending; after all the build-up, it was almost anti-climactic. The serious consequences were a little bit of a sucker-punch to what seemed a candy-floss read, and I appreciated McGuire’s ability to develop a path that still managed to feel organic and satisfying.
It tolerated a thorough second read, so I’ll have to be honest and call it four stars.