★ ★ ★
Remember that period in college (and in some cases, post-college) when you were convinced Cinnamon Toast Crunch was an acceptable substitute for any meal? You know how you managed that, right? By not thinking about the fact you were basically eating vitamin-enriched pellets, and concentrating on that sugary, cinnamony crunch.
Half-Off Ragnorok is like that.
Half-Off explores the world of Alex, one of the human members of the Price family. Alex is officially working at the Columbus Zoo as a visiting herpetologist with Dee, a member of the gorgon genus. Unofficially, of course, he and his family are working to protect humans from mythological non-humans–and vice versa–and his work as a reptile specialist allows him the chance to research the more unusual species in the area. While in Ohio, he’s staying with Grandma and Grandpa, a ‘cuckoo’ and a Revenant respectively, as well as cousin Sarah, another cuckoo. Work has been complicated by dating Shelby, the visiting big cat specialist from Australia, and they’ve just snuck away for a little tete-a-tete when they discover a partially petrified human. Alex’s personal and professional worlds are about to collide as they follow a trail of petrified disaster.
Once again, McGuire impresses with her “creature research,” although by ‘creatures,’ I mean those of the imaginary sort. There are small griffins, frickens, gorgons of various sub-species, basilisks, cuckoos and so on. Her inventiveness always impresses, and is one of my favorite aspects of the InCryptid and October Daye series. The real animals, perhaps not so much; I’m not entirely certain the rest of her animal biology and field ecology held up, but, you know, this isn’t meant to be a text. Just enjoy it—mmm, sugary! (For those who are curious, Mr. Crunchy’s appetite is surprisingly large for a turtle, and in the species discussion of frickens, the taxonomy seems a little confused. I could go on, but I won’t. Because, the sugary crunch!)
Plotting is a standard whodunit set-up, with various red herrings trotted out for the reader. For me, McGuire once again telegraphs the murderer–honestly, I’m not even sure what specifically tipped me–but as usual with her stories, the process is the best part of the ride. Besides, it allows her to showcase all those great creatures. The denouement might have caused me an eye-roll or two, but again, that’s my normal reaction to her writing. Nonetheless, did I mention it had cinnamony crunch?
Characters were an interesting assortment. Alex is more a reserved, methodical thinker, and part of his value as narrator (I’m guessing) is as a device for large info-dumps of material. He’s rather dry and tends to be stuck in his head, but partway through transforms into Indiana Jones. Shelby seemed interesting, but was hampered by authorial inconsistency–when we initially meet her, she’s a little demanding, then ready to kick three kinds of butt, later admits he was just a fling, and then again, is paralyzed in a crisis (or at least after one). The supporting cast was most interesting: Grandma’s fierceness and Sarah’s helpless confusion were intriguing and their dialogue engaging. I confess; I read for Sarah’s story as much as Alex’s, and found myself satisfied at its direction.
Interestingly, for those prone to reading out of order (I’m looking at you, Bookaneer), I don’t think it would be absolutely necessary to read the first two before this one, as the setting and main character are new. Alex was only briefly mentioned in the earlier InCryptid books. However, it continues to deal with Sarah, Alex and Verity’s ‘cousin,’ and her emotional trauma after the events in book two. In that sense, it might be spoilery.
A final note: the title puzzled me. Turns out Ragnorok is both a Norse myth about a great battle before the world’s rebirth, as well as a massive-multiplayer game. I don’t quite get how either would fit, but hey, it rhymes and we’re sticking with the shopping theme (why?)
Overall, this was a three plus star read. Just don’t use it as a cornerstone of your reading diet (mm, sugary crunch!)