Indexing: Reflections by Seanan McGuire

Indexing: ReflectionsIndexing: Reflections

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Indexing, #2

Kindle Edition, 324 pg.
47North, 2016

Read: August 12, 2015 – January 13, 2016
Okay, I’ve already published entries on the individual chapters/episodes. So here, I’ve collected them all in one handy-dandy (and long) post, and then added a few thoughts on the book as a whole.

Episode One: Forbidden Doors 3 Stars

Fairy tales are not for children, and they don’t care who dies. They never have.

Seanan McGuire’s Indexing is back, and it’s like we never left.

It’s been a few weeks since the team saved the world, but the ATV’s investigation into the matter isn’t quite finished. They’ve got one more hurdle to get through: a series of interviews with a HR Department shrink.

It’s a nice little narrative device — we’re reintroduced to the characters (or new readers are introduced), get the last series recapped (and interpreted from a couple of angles), we get to see how the team’s reacting to the rather dramatic turn of events they lived through, and get ready for what’s next. Since there are (an estimated) eleven more episodes to go through — you know going in that things are going to go pretty well for the majority of them. Sure, there’s a chance that one or two will be packed off somewhere for some “treatment” or “observation”, but the team, as a whole, will be fine.

It’s a lot like a lot of TV season premiers, actually.

    There were a couple of highlights for me:

  • Sloane made me laugh, hard, at her apologetic for keeping Henry around (and I liked pretty much everything else she did here).
  • I probably enjoyed Demi more than I have before.
  • The more time we spend with Jeff, the more he threatens Sloane as the series’ most interesting and/or entertaining character.
  • I hope (and sorta fear) that we get to spend a little more time with Dr. Ciara Bloomfield –in her professional capacity, she’d be fun to have around; if it’s about her personal life, I can’t imagine that’d be pretty.

Really, not much to talk about here — this is why I don’t normally do chapter-by-chapter writeups. Still, I like the world, characters, and the whole serialized novel thing. Happy to have it back.

Episode Two: Broken Glass 3 Stars

>So, having reassembled the team, reviewed the events of the last book and refocused both readers and characters to their mission, it’s time to get the ball rolling on this season.

Once again, McGuire introduces the AFI team to a problem that seems sort of light hearted at first (investigating a House that Jack Built, complete with lines like, “Sloane had managed to locate the cat that chased the rat”) — but with some dark undertones. But before we get too far into it, Henry and the crew are interrupted and have to swing off in another direction. And this direction is a doozy — the prison to hold the Fairy Tales who’ve fully manifested in a bad-for-society way — has a jail break. It’s not just any jail break either, because the Narrative has seemingly done something impossible along the way. But I’ll let Henry spell that part out to ya. I’ll just say that I really like where this is going.

On the one hand, I thought what we learned about Demi in the previous episode helped us understand her better, and demonstrated her commitment to the cause/team. So when many of the same notes where struck this episode, I wasn’t thrilled — but, what we heard/saw this time, was different enough to justify it. Seriously, Demi is either going to be a superstar in the AFI, or when she turns and stabs everyone in the back, it’s going to hurt a lot. I’m hoping for the former, am (trying to) ready for the latter.

Elise, the escapee, is either going to be a great Big Bad for this season, a great underling, solider for a better Big Bad, or a nice warm-up for the next few weeks until we get to the Big Bad. Mid-sentence there, I thought of several other options for Elise’s role. Whatever that role ends up being, I think I’m going to enjoy her.

Overall, it’s more of a set-up chapter than anything else, but it was very promising and entertaining. Which is good enough.

Episode Three: Brotherly Love 3 Stars

Now this is what I’m talking about. A solid, solid entry. We get Henry’s brother back; we get a good, contained story — yet with serialized elements that we’ll see play out; we see fallout from Episode 2; and thanks to Elise’s particular brand of magic, we — and the characters — see something new.

There’s an incursion near the school where Henry’s brother, Gerry, teaches. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with him, it’s just near him. It’s also near his school, and the children in it — children who, it should be said, are the primary targets of the incursion. So Henry and her team are dispatched to wrangle with the press, school administration, and whoever — or whatever — is out there wanting to snack on kids.

The solution to this comes a bit easily, but the challenge to this episode isn’t solving eh narrative incursion, it’s in figuring out just what’s going on — how this is the result of Elise’s escape — and then trying to see what the impact is going to be on Henry’s team (the stress on Demi and Henry this episode in particular). We don’t see Elise at all — just what she’s done, but that’s enough.

Other than the ending coming a page or two earlier than I’d expected, I thought this one worked pretty well. We’ve only had 15 episodes of this series, and already McGuire is playing with the conventions, I like that. Some people would wait until the third book to mess with things like this, but why wait? Go for it while you can. Especially if you can tell good stories while re-writing your own rules, and that’s exactly what McGuire has done here.

Episode Four: Split Ends 3 Stars

This is one is hard to think about as an individual episode. There’s some plot advancement, yes. But mostly this is about the team getting some new intel, evaluating it, and then coming up with a plan to get more information — there are some unorthodox moves required to obtain this more, but if they’re going to get anywhere towards capturing Elise before more lives are lost, they’re going to have to make them.

The new information they are given is huge. It’s not unexpected for the reader, and you could make the case that Henry should’ve been expecting it. But it’s more than believable that she wouldn’t have.

Yes, this installment is mostly about investigation, and not busting heads, or messing with narrative incursions, or anything. So it’s hard to discuss — but it is really well executed, what the reader and Henry learn is interesting and thought-provoking. Not only about the case they’re working on, but we get a better understanding (or at least the beginning of a better understanding) of how the whole Fairy Tale narrative functions.

There’s suspense, there’s Sloane being Sloane, there’s a cliffhanger ending. Not easy to write about, but easy enough to read and start waiting on the next chapter — maybe more urgently than I’m used to.

Episode Five: Sleeping Beauty 4 Stars

Henrietta Marchen was a perfect exemplar of her kind. Her skin was white as snow, and never tanned or freckled; the best she’d ever been able to accomplish was a violent burn that turned her entire body as red as her lips, which were the color of fresh-drawn blood. Once, in the third grade, she had gotten in a fight with another student who insisted on calling her a clown. She had blackened both his eyes, and he had mashed her red lips back against her white teeth, until real blood appeared to make the contrast in her coloration even more glaring. She had smiled, bloody toothed and feral, until he started crying for his mommy, and he’d never called her clown again, and her classmates had stopped looking her in the eye.

Thanks to the events of the last episode, Henry’s not available to narrate this one. Which is frustrating because we readers want to know what’s going on with her, but is ever so cool and rewarding because we get this episode narrated by Sloane instead.

A first-person narrator change can be annoying, no doubt, but sometimes it’s just the breath of fresh air that a work needs (or can find useful). In this case, we get passages like this:

I lifted the apple, turned it to the side without tooth marks, and took a bite. It was firm and crisp and a little too floral for my taste. I’ve never understood the way Snow Whites yearn for apples, but then, they’ve never understood the way I long to kill them all, so I figure it balances out in the end.

Which absolutely makes this change worth it.

So we’re treated to some more of Sloane’s backstory than we’ve gotten before, we learn a bit more about the AFI’s Deputy Director, we get the return of the HR shrink from Episode 1 (we all knew we weren’t done with Ciara). We also see the team through Sloane’s eyes, as well as her unmediated take on Elise and Birdie.

There was nothing not to like about this Episode, it moved the story along well, was entertaining as all get out and shook up the status quo in a way that served the story and characters rather than being change for change’s shake.

If you’re reading this serially, or will read it when the whole is complete, I can assure you, this is going to be a favorite installment.

Episode Six: Frostbite 3 Stars

While Jeff and Sloane were fretting in the last chapter, this is what Henry was going through — and pretty soon you start to think that maybe Jeff and Sloane were better off (as worried as they were). But honestly, there really wasn’t a lot of plot movement here. It’s primarily a chapter that expands what the reader knows about the story. We get a better understanding of how things work in the whiteout wood that the Snow Whites like Henry in habit, we get a little backstory on Henry and Gerry, and the beginnings of an understanding what’s going on with Elise.

Which isn’t just to say is all exposition, or dull — because it’s not. But the fight scenes, the danger, the tension takes are of secondary importance. It’s a good chapter, and does a good job of establishing a foundation for whatever is going to come next.

The ending could be cliff-hanger-y. But didn’t really feel that way, it felt more like one more hurdle for Henry to conquer. It seems like a pretty big hurdle and one not easily overcome. But I, for one, am not that worried about the outcome.

Of course, with my track record of predicting McGuire means I should probably be sweating bullets.

Episode Seven: False Love’s Kiss 4 Stars

So we were going to do this the hard way. Fine. I’m Sloane Winters: I invented the hard way. “You want to ignore what’s right in front of your faces, that’s okay by me. I’ll just laugh even harder when it turns around and bites you. Assholes.”
“Thanks for the motivational speech, Sloane,” said Andrew, wrinkling his nose. “Any time I start to feel like things are going well, all I have to do is remember your contributions to this team.”

Henry’s a cool character, but man, Sloane is just a fun narrator — assuming that things get back to their heightened “normal”, I’m going miss her.

So there’s a Fairy Tale incursion, a Godfather Death, that I’ve never heard of — but man, it doesn’t sound like fodder for a Disney movie, I’ll tell you that. Opening with this is a great setup for the chapter — there’s drama, a little action, and a few laughs. Have I mentioned I really enjoy reading about Sloane?

Then things take a turn for the dramatic — Henry’s back from her little mission, but . . . something’s not right. Even if it has nothing to do with stopping evil/saving the world, I hope they can take care of whatever’s not right just for Jeffrey’s sake. And then we get a Rapunzel in action — and a not-so-typical Sloane solution.

I’ve enjoyed what we’ve seen from Ciara so far — but her working on the locks, and how she describes it? It’s just gold. Probably the highlight of the episode. I hope, if there’s another sequel, she doesn’t disappear into HR.

I think having this chapter before the last would’ve been more interesting — just to see if we’d have been able to figure why Sloane’s Spidey-Sense was going off, without a very strong possibility having been talked about last chapter. Even if I’m wrong, watching this unfold is going to be very interesting. Possibly more interesting than seeing what happens with Birdie and Elise.

Episode Eight: Holly Tree 2 1/2 Stars

Henry finds a way back home — of sorts, and at a great cost. We learn a whole lot about Sloane, about the early days of the ATI (and it’s predecessors) — and I even expect a lot of this to come back and be relevant.

I just don’t know what to say about this installment. Was it interesting? Yes. Does it set up all sorts of things for the future in terms of character, plot, and everything? Oh yeah.

But, it didn’t grab me, didn’t get me invested, didn’t do anything really for me at all, but I think I know where it tried to and it just didn’t succeed. All it managed to do what whet my appetite for Episode Nine.

Episode Nine: Feline Cobbling 4 Stars

Just what I needed after “Holly Tree,” Sloane puts the pieces together, and the bad guys show their hand. But wait, there’s more — a fascinating narrative incursion, and some real tension — both physical danger and a heart and soul in jeopardy.

The incursion was a “Puss in Boots,” which just gets our characters out of the office and into a situation where things can happen. Which isn’t that uncommon this second series, but is frustrating. I’d have loved to see more with this Marquis of Carabas tussling with the Sloane and the team. Still, what McGuire did instead? So much better.

I really can’t say more about this one (like the last couple) without ruining the whole thing, so I’ll just leave it as: exciting, intriguing, and what we learn about what Birdie and Elise makes this series all the more interesting. As for what Sloane learns about herself? Fuhgeddaboudit.

I expect that Episode Ten will be all about Henry and that we’ll have to wait until Eleven to see what happens as the result of this one, and that’s going to drive me crazy. Even if I like Episode Ten a whole lot more than I have the last couple of Henry-centric episodes.

Episode Ten: Untold Truths 3.5 Stars

We’ve all read enough/watched enough Body Swap stories to know how this goes down. Henry wakes up in a body that’s not hers, makes her way to the Bureau, to try to get her team back.

She has to convince more than a few people that’s she who she claims to be. The fact that there are people who work there who have the ability to tell if she’s telling the truth, should make things easier — and probably does.

McGuire doesn’t let things get too bogged down with this identity test. Between humor, one seriously creepy version of Moaning Myrtle, and the sense of impending doom, things keep moving well.

The plot didn’t advance a lot, but what little bit that happened was much needed and a positive sign for the next installment. Except for the last few paragraphs, which will hopefully be the first thing addressed in episode 11.

Episode Eleven: Mirror’s Face 4 1/2 Stars

Dying, as it turned out, was quite a pleasant thing. The world went soft around the edges, taking all the pain and confusion and betrayal with it. They had seemed so important not long ago, when time had been measured in years, not in seconds. Now, it was finally clear that they’d never really mattered at all.

Well now, that was something. This is probably the Platonic ideal of Indexing episodes.

We start with a character putting all of the pieces together at the last second — technically, milliseconds after the last second, I guess. We get to see that there are some advantages to living in a Fairy Tale (and it’s about time, too. This made me realize that there’s really been no upside to be found for these people). We see again that Demi is someone not to be taken lightly, and that Ciara is in the running for most fun character McGuire’s yet given us (not just in the Indexing stories, either).

That’s before we get to the meat of the action and the center of this story, too.

McGuire just nailed this one — good character moments, high-stakes action, good use of magic, important reveals, without for a beat missing the sense of fun that this series demands (and she too-often loses). All of the questions and concerns I had about this second series were wiped away with this episode — it’s all been building to this, and McGuire pulled it off.

The rest of this series is going to be great, and I can’t wait to see what McGuire does with it.

Episode Twelve: Never After 3.5 Stars

“. . .we’re going to stop Adrianna and Birdie from doing whatever it is that they’re planning to do.” Distort the narrative. Turn the stories that wouldn’t stop replaying to their advantage. We knew the broad strokes, but we’d never quite managed to unsnarl the details. I wasn’t sure they had either. We’d been at their heels every step of the way, and it’s hard to properly plot your evil empire when the damn heroes won’t stop harrying you.

Oh good, I wasn’t sure about the details either. If neither the good guys or the bad guys were that clear about it either, I guess it’s okay if I was hazy about their evil plan.

I have to admit, after the last chapter — and the momentum that had built up to it — I thought this was a bit of a let-down. Not much, just a bit, like McGuire had let her foot off the gas a little bit now that she was in her final lap.

Given the nature of what Henry and the others were setting out to do — namely, rescue Sloane — I really can’t complain too much that Sloane didn’t get to do enough, but blast it — she didn’t. It makes sense that there wasn’t a lot for her to do, but I’d like to think that somehow, this could’ve been dealt with in a better way. I’m probably wrong, McGuire knows what she’s doing, but that was my impression while reading.

Thankfully, Andy was there to pick up a little of the slack (among other things) — this is probably the best use of Andy in either book. Definitely the best use of him in Reflections.

The confrontation between Henry and Adrianna was pretty satisfying, I wanted more. I’m tempted to say I’m just being greedy, but I think it goes back to the letting the foot off the gas thing. I was definitely less-than-satisfied with the confrontation with Birdie.

McGuire used a very effective — and subtle — way to do an info dump at the end to let the reader know everything that happened off-screen and point to how things’ll be going in the future. I don’t know if Amazon/McGuire are planning on a Season 3, but if they are, I have a hunch it’ll be a doozy.

Sure the ending, could’ve been a little stronger, but it got the job done, and ultimately, that’s enough.

The Whole Enchilada:

I’m not sure this one worked as well as Indexing in the episodic format, some of the slower chapters — the ones with a lot of discussion about the nature of/intent of the Narrative, etc. seemed slower than they might have in the middle of reading the whole thing at once (binge reading?). Still, it was a stronger serialized story than Indexing, which spent a lot of time being episodic to get things rolling.

I liked the new characters, fleshing out the world of the Bureau and so on. On the whole, a more successful book than the last one — even if it wasn’t as good on a chapter-to-chapter basis.

There seems to be something appropriate to this world to be talking in Gestalt terms, so I’ll just leave it at that.

—–

3.5 Stars

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One thought on “Indexing: Reflections by Seanan McGuire

  1. Pingback: January 2016 Report | The Irresponsible Reader

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