Indexing by Seanan McGuire

Read  March 2018
Recommended for: not me
★    ★  

At the end of the day, McGuire needs to stop turning in first drafts. Either that, or hire a new editor, because the one she has is about as rigorous as a kindergarten teacher (I hesitate to say first grade, because I know how Mrs. Bauman was about penmanship back in the day).

It could also be that I like my lines neatly drawn; a book is a novel, and a serial story is something read in short installments, allowing time and life to fuzz details between episodes. Books are not tv series, and tv tells mini-stories within each week while keeping in mind an overall direction (barring cancellation, so never plan too far ahead). I realized format incompatibility when I read Bookburners: The Complete Season 1, and Indexing is even less effective. That said, I enjoyed Ilona Andrews’ serial, Clean Sweep, so it just goes to show you that there are exceptions (then again, the Andrews reworked it before releasing as a book). Indexing tries to make allowances for people joining the series at different points, providing a bit of exposition in every installment. It’s usually, and dismayingly, the same exposition, such as “Jeff was a type XX, a shoemaker, who makes the best footwear” and “Sloane was almost wicked and couldn’t be trusted to go on cases by herself.”

Snow White–I mean, Henrietta–and her team of almost fairy-tale types, excepting former journalist Andy, investigate fairy-tales-in-the-making. The ‘narrative’ can hijack certain situations and force almost-fairy-tale types to act in ways they normally wouldn’t as the ‘narrative’ plays out an archtype, more or less. It’s a great premise that would be entertaining with better writing. The first section is a Sleeping Beauty variant, then a Goldilocks and a Cinderella. McGuire does eventually weave in a larger plot that helps hold the overall narrative together, sort of. Mostly. There’s a lot of narrative fuzzy area, and I suspect a bit of ret-conning (early on Henri is described as literally ‘white,’ while later she is thankful she didn’t entirely lose all melanin), along with items that May Be Foreshadowing but end up not (useful when not being entirely sure where one would like to go or for how long, I imagine).

To make it sound vaguely X-Files-like, fairy stories are given a number and then all the types are kept together in an Index. This is a totally pointless device, since the reader has no actual index, and McGuire has to have her characters say awkward things to each other like, “You think she’s a four-fifty?’ Henri asked sharply. ‘No, I don’t think she’s Cinderella because we don’t have the step-sisters.” (I totally made that dialogue up but that’s almost exactly how it goes).

The challenge with working with character archetypes is, you know, archetypes. As in, these characters are supposed to think and perform along a particular trope when the narrative forces them. While we should know it as the reader, Henri also constantly reminds us, usually right after Sloan says something mean. But it also means characterization for everyone by Henri and Sloan is generally weak, existing only enough to (surprise!) perform a needed story function (information! Tension! Villain!)

Honestly, I should probably give up on McGuire, because her habit of telling over showing drives me bonkers, except four years or so, she’ll come out with a home run for me. There are absolutely great kernels of fun in here. I liked Andy dealing with the talking frog who offers to get a lost object, the description of Mr. Reynard’s den, and the smell of apples being a trigger for knowing Henri is near a dead person. When McGuire describes a storybook scene, it’s fabulous. So there’s that. My attention wandered when trying to read; I think me pacing reading like a novel just doesn’t work. But then, I’m not a tv watcher, either.

But, yay, me. Another one off the TBR list. In the spirit of McGuire, I’ll just turn in my first second draft.

 

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About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Urban fantasy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Indexing by Seanan McGuire

  1. Mikhail S. Rekun says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. McGuire writes a lot of iffy books, but every so often she manages to pull off something sufficiently sterling in quality that I can’t *quite* give her up. (The earlier Toby Daye books come to mind).

    I’d definitely avoid the sequel to Indexing. I actually sort of liked this book, although I will not hold it up as great literature. But McGuire is *not* good at sequels.

    • thebookgator says:

      Yikes, good to know about the sequel. I find she has diminishing returns for series with me, with the exception of October Daye, one of her earliest series. Those books improved for a short while.

      • Mikhail S. Rekun says:

        True, though at a certain point I think even the Toby Daye series started going downhill. It just took much longer. Most of the other series started flailing with book 2 or 3.

      • thebookgator says:

        Oh, you are right, which is why I quit the series. My theory is that she was still working hard to be successful and actually had a decent editor. I liked book 4 but 5 was such a mess for me that I quit.

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