Pub Day Repost: The Asset by Shane Kuhn

The AssetThe Asset

by Shane Kuhn
ARC, 258 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2016
Read: June 16 – 19, 2016

Like most of his business trips, the only sights he’d be taking in were those of Duty Free, Wok n’ Roll, Dunkin’ Donuts, and all the other apostrophic, postapocalyptic airport landmarks he vagabonded past countless times a year.

People often made envious remarks about his business travel, not realizing that the homogeneous scenery endemic to virtually every airport in the United States made on susceptible to what Kennedy half-jokingly called “Terminal Illness”–a chronic frequent traveler disease brought on by extreme isolation, fatigue-induced delirium, fast-food malnutrition, excessive consumption of bottom-shelf booze, and diminished social equilibrium. He likened it to extended space travel, but with inferior cuisine.

Unlike, say, Ryan Bingham, Kenney has a noble reason for spending so much time in airports. He flies all over the world — particularly the U.S. — training airport security officers (namely, the TSA). Sure, the TSA has their own training program, but airports will bring him in as a consultant to help beef things up. Thanks to a tragic loss years ago, Kennedy is one of the most invested security experts in the world — he’s more committed to airplane safety than most governments. To say he’s driven is quite the understatement.

At the moment, there’s a security bulletin going around with a warning of an immanent terrorist threat. A few people in the CIA, FBI, NSA, TSA are taking it seriously, but most figure it’s just another in a long line of boys who cried, “wolf.” Kennedy, of course, takes it more seriously than anyone, and is pretty frustrated that he’s so alone in this.

So when he’s approached by representatives of the intelligence community and given the opportunity to do something to stop this threat — not just consult, but act — he jumps in with both feet. And immediately finds himself in way above his head.

Kennedy and the team he joins are racing against the clock — not sure when someone might strike, and really only pretty sure that they will. But if the threats reported are anything close to reality, if this attack goes off, it’ll be worse than anything in history.

Kuhn’s an experienced thriller writer and he knows how to keep things tense and the plot moving. From the outset we know that the attack will take place 64 days from the time we first meet Kennedy. Each time you get to a new chapter and read, “Day X,” you feel the tension ratcheting up (like Lee Child’s 61 Hours in reverse). Kuhn keeps you turning pages as quickly as you can while ignoring the clock and the alarm that’s sure to go off in a couple of hours.

Because of the kind of book it is you that know that certain characters are going to turn out to be something they don’t seem to be, or that events aren’t going to be what they seem to be. But Kuhn pulls most of them off so that it’s unexpected — for example, a plot development that I spent 100 pages for took my by surprise when it actually happened. There is some violence here, but for the genre, it’s pretty tame — it’s not sanitized, it’s not toned-down — it’s just utilized when needed, nothing to excess.

Most of the characters were pretty much what you expect in a book like this — but that’s fine, those are why we read books like this. I don’t need every character to break the mold, I like certain types to be good examples of those types, and Kuhn has many of those running throughout these pages. If Nuri isn’t one of the best/most entertaining examples of she-nerd that you’ve come across lately, I’ll eat my hat. There are a couple of characters that aren’t from the typical thriller cast lists (see the musician, Love) are even better.

I don’t want to compare this too often to Kuhn’s John Lago books, but I have to a little. Those books are marked for their voice, their satire, their off-kilter protagonists. This protagonist is exactly what you expect he is, and is pretty typical for the genre, and the voice is pretty straight. But every now and then you get a little of Kuhn’s voice (always appropriate to character and the work, don’t get me wrong). Like when Kennedy and his team are trying to guess when and where the terrorists will attack, and we get the line, “Terrorists are basically psychotic public relations whores.” Followed by “The choice of 9/11 was basically branding, a tongue-in-cheek play on our emergency number, which makes the date more memorable.” A little snarky and astute, the kind of talk you get around a conference table while brainstorming. The analysis of holidays during this exchange made me laugh.

Basically, he knocked it out of the park. Even some of the twists I guess that we’re shocked when they were revealed nail-biting right up to the end. The Asset is a heck of a stand-alone thriller. If the publisher decides for more adventures of Kennedy, I’m in. I think I like Kuhn’s series better than this kind of thing, but man, this one hit the sweet spot. I hope it brings him a lot of success.

I received this book from a drawing on the author’s website. Mega-Thanks to Shane Kuhn and Simon & Schuster for the good read. As it was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotations above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm as soon as I can in a couple of weeks.

—–

4 Stars

The Asset by Shane Kuhn

The AssetThe Asset

by Shane Kuhn

ARC, 258 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2016

Read: June 16 – 19, 2016

Like most of his business trips, the only sights he’d be taking in were those of Duty Free, Wok n’ Roll, Dunkin’ Donuts, and all the other apostrophic, postapocalyptic airport landmarks he vagabonded past countless times a year.

People often made envious remarks about his business travel, not realizing that the homogeneous scenery endemic to virtually every airport in the United States made on susceptible to what Kennedy half-jokingly called “Terminal Illness”–a chronic frequent traveler disease brought on by extreme isolation, fatigue-induced delirium, fast-food malnutrition, excessive consumption of bottom-shelf booze, and diminished social equilibrium. He likened it to extended space travel, but with inferior cuisine.

Unlike, say, Ryan Bingham, Kenney has a noble reason for spending so much time in airports. He flies all over the world — particularly the U.S. — training airport security officers (namely, the TSA). Sure, the TSA has their own training program, but airports will bring him in as a consultant to help beef things up. Thanks to a tragic loss years ago, Kennedy is one of the most invested security experts in the world — he’s more committed to airplane safety than most governments. To say he’s driven is quite the understatement.

At the moment, there’s a security bulletin going around with a warning of an immanent terrorist threat. A few people in the CIA, FBI, NSA, TSA are taking it seriously, but most figure it’s just another in a long line of boys who cried, “wolf.” Kennedy, of course, takes it more seriously than anyone, and is pretty frustrated that he’s so alone in this.

So when he’s approached by representatives of the intelligence community and given the opportunity to do something to stop this threat — not just consult, but act — he jumps in with both feet. And immediately finds himself in way above his head.

Kennedy and the team he joins are racing against the clock — not sure when someone might strike, and really only pretty sure that they will. But if the threats reported are anything close to reality, if this attack goes off, it’ll be worse than anything in history.

Kuhn’s an experienced thriller writer and he knows how to keep things tense and the plot moving. From the outset we know that the attack will take place 64 days from the time we first meet Kennedy. Each time you get to a new chapter and read, “Day X,” you feel the tension ratcheting up (like Lee Child’s 61 Hours in reverse). Kuhn keeps you turning pages as quickly as you can while ignoring the clock and the alarm that’s sure to go off in a couple of hours.

Because of the kind of book it is you that know that certain characters are going to turn out to be something they don’t seem to be, or that events aren’t going to be what they seem to be. But Kuhn pulls most of them off so that it’s unexpected — for example, a plot development that I spent 100 pages for took my by surprise when it actually happened. There is some violence here, but for the genre, it’s pretty tame — it’s not sanitized, it’s not toned-down — it’s just utilized when needed, nothing to excess.

Most of the characters were pretty much what you expect in a book like this — but that’s fine, those are why we read books like this. I don’t need every character to break the mold, I like certain types to be good examples of those types, and Kuhn has many of those running throughout these pages. If Nuri isn’t one of the best/most entertaining examples of she-nerd that you’ve come across lately, I’ll eat my hat. There are a couple of characters that aren’t from the typical thriller cast lists (see the musician, Love) are even better.

I don’t want to compare this too often to Kuhn’s John Lago books, but I have to a little. Those books are marked for their voice, their satire, their off-kilter protagonists. This protagonist is exactly what you expect he is, and is pretty typical for the genre, and the voice is pretty straight. But every now and then you get a little of Kuhn’s voice (always appropriate to character and the work, don’t get me wrong). Like when Kennedy and his team are trying to guess when and where the terrorists will attack, and we get the line, “Terrorists are basically psychotic public relations whores.” Followed by “The choice of 9/11 was basically branding, a tongue-in-cheek play on our emergency number, which makes the date more memorable.” A little snarky and astute, the kind of talk you get around a conference table while brainstorming. The analysis of holidays during this exchange made me laugh.

Basically, he knocked it out of the park. Even some of the twists I guess that we’re shocked when they were revealed nail-biting right up to the end. The Asset is a heck of a stand-alone thriller. If the publisher decides for more adventures of Kennedy, I’m in. I think I like Kuhn’s series better than this kind of thing, but man, this one hit the sweet spot. I hope it brings him a lot of success.

I received this book from a drawing on the author’s website. Mega-Thanks to Shane Kuhn and Simon & Schuster for the good read. As it was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotations above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm as soon as I can in a couple of weeks.

—–

4 Stars

In Medias Res: The Asset by Shane Kuhn

as the title implies, I’m in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through.

—–

The Asset
The Asset

by Shane Kuhn

This is not the Shane Kuhn you know. Well, sort of. This is a standalone thriller about Airport/Airplane Security, Terrorism, and the USA’s efforts to keep the friendly skies, well, friendly. It’s not as fun and funny as The Intern’s Handbook or Hostile Takeover (or whatever they’re called in your part of the world). BUT it is just as well-written and suspenseful — and a little easier to believe, actually.

There are hints, suggestions, indicators, and other things pointing to an immanent terrorist attack on the U.S., and not enough people are taking the situation seriously. At least, least that’s the point of view of Kennedy, the security expert and protagonist, who is taking it very seriously. Taking place over 64 days (not a spoiler, that’s literally the 2nd line — although, there could be some action that takes place after that). Will Kennedy be in time to stop it? How will he? this is a pulse-pounder, a nail-biter, a “oh, crud — do I really have to go to work tomorrow? Do I actually need to sleep before then?” kind of book.

I think I’d prefer it to be harder to believe than the other two books, come to think of it.

I’m almost at the mid-way point of the ARC (with thanks to Simon & Schuster and Shane Kuhn) and I’m telling you now, you want to pre-order this, get on your library’s wait-list, or whatever (legal) thing you do to get your hands on a book. It comes out on July 12, you want to be ready for it.

Indexing (Audiobook) by Seanan McGuire, Mary Robinette Kowal

Indexing AudiobookIndexing

by Seanan McGuire, Mary Robinette Kowal
(Narrator)
Series: Indexing, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hours
BrillianceAudio, 2015
It could easily be argued that I’ve said enough (if not too much) about Indexing. So I’m not going to talk about the story, the writing, and so on, beyond this: not listening to this episodically like I read it, highlights strengths and weaknesses. For example, it’s minor, but the way she has to re-introduce the cast in every episode gets pretty tiring when you hear them all minutes apart — but you don’t really notice at all when you read them every 2 weeks.

The book as a whole is developed better and more fully than I realized initially — the whole thing is a lot more connected than I realized. I’d been intending to kick back and read the whole thing sometime to see how it held together, and I’m glad I got the chance to with the audiobook. It’s really a much stronger whole than I realized.

The main thing I want to talk about is Mary Robinette Kowal (that’s three audiobooks in a row from her, I have to take a break before I just assume that every audiobook is by her). She was fantastic. Her Sloane wasn’t anything like the Sloane in my head, but far superior. The rest of the team was spot on — but the best was Henry. The little inflections of her voice when Henry was closest to her Story, when she was at her most Snow White-ness, added so much to McGuire’s words. I really couldn’t believe how much more I got out of it through her interpretation of the character. Just outstanding.

If you haven’t read the stories or book yet, I do recommend them — but if you get the chance, go with the audio instead. A recommendation I never thought I’d say about any book and audiobook.

—–

4 Stars

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #1

Hardcover, 169 pg.
Tor.com, 2016

Read: April 16, 2016


“. . . we went through. We came out on this moor that seemed to go on forever, between the mountains and the angry sea. And that sky! I’d never seen so many stars before, or such a red, red moon. The door slammed shut behind us. We couldn’t have gone back if we’d wanted to — and we didn’t want to. We were twelve. We are going to have an adventure if it killed us.”

“Did you? asked Nancy. “Have an adventure, I mean?”

“Sure,” said Jack bleakly. “It didn’t even kill us. Not permanently anyway. But it changed everything.”

One of my favorite book bloggers to read (and not just because our tastes are similar) began his take on Every Heart a Doorway by saying:

Sometimes we either meet a book (or a novella, in this case,) that is precisely the right fit for your soul, (at the moment,) or just happens to be original enough right when you need it, that it fills your life and your mind with brightness and joy.

For me, this is one of those pieces. To muddy the waters even more, I’m an unabashed fan of the author and I’m likely to pick up all of her writings without even checking the subject matter because I simply trust the woman to steer me to any shore.

If I didn’t start off by quoting that, I’d end paraphrasing/plagiarizing it.

So here’s the deal in a world where portal fantasies are possible, and children all over the world are going through them — à la Lucy Pevensie et al., Dorothy Gale, September, Quentin Coldwater, Alice, Jason Walker, etc. — and, sadly (?) most of these children end up back home. Some of them are glad to be back in this world and want to put their adventures behind them — a lot of them don’t want to be here anymore and want to return to wherever it was they went. Both kinds of children have a hard time coping in this world and need help. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is for the latter kind.

Nancy is a girl recently returned, and is very different than the girl her parents have been missing. They want her fixed, they want their daughter back — not whoever this person is with different attitudes, actions, clothes, etc. — West doesn’t promise that (but she may have allowed them to think she’ll do that, just so she can help Nancy), but she can help Nancy adjust to this world. So she joins the small student body at the private school/treatment center. The last thing Nancy wants is to be fixed, to be that girl again — which just means she fits in here, with returned kids from all over the country, who’ve been in all sorts of worlds. As Nancy begins to understand the nature of these other worlds, the effects they have on children, and why many of them want to leave again, so do we.

It turns out, all of the residents of West’s Home are going to learn that you can have plenty of adventures here, too. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I really liked all of these children — the adults we met, too, actually — Jack in particular. But every one of them — even the less-than-nice ones — are great characters and I’d have gladly spent another 200 pages with them, easy.

The writing is incredible — not that I’ve ever had any real problems with McGuire before, but she kicked it up a notch here — and is writing a different kind of story than I’m used to, so she writes differently. This book took me longer to read than it should’ve, because I had to go back and reread several sentences/lines/paragraphs — not because I needed to read them again for clarification, but because they were so perfect, so quotable, so . . . something. I’m not going to start quoting beyond what I opened with, because I don’t know if I could stop — Laura got two of them I made notes about. You could literally be amused, melancholy, horrified, feeling whimsy, and nervous within a couple of paragraphs — only to turn the page and start all over again. Not because she was jerking you around or anything, it’s just that kind of story, that kind of playing with language, just that kind of broken reality.

McGuire gave us such a satisfying ending — complete, tidy, fitting, bittersweet, heartwarming — and then I read another paragraph or so, and it’s so much better (and all of the above to the next degree) once you got to the actual ending. Then I closed the book and I teared up a little — for no reason at all, really, but it felt really appropriate.

Can I say this is positively Gaiman-esque without making it sound like McGuire’s derivative in any way? I don’t want to even hint at suggesting that — but man, if you like Neil Gaiman’s stuff — get this. If you’ve ever read a portal fantasy and wondered what happened to the kids afterwards– get this. If you like things that are good, and don’t mind magic in your reading — get this.

—–

5 Stars

Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire

Chaos ChoreographyChaos Choreography

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #5

Mass Market Paperback, 345 pg.
DAW, 2016

Read: March 24 – 25, 2016

Hey, wow, who’d have thunk it — a positive review of a Seanan McGuire novel from The Irresponsible Reader?!? Next thing, I’ll be telling you that the sky is blue, water is wet and J. J. Abrams likes lens flares. But what do you want from me? Seanan McGuire is a great author who consistently puts out fun reads. The only reason that she hasn’t taken over the world yet is that she doesn’t want to.

Oh, spoiler alert: I’m probably going to be giving very positive reviews to two other McGuire works in the next week or two.

So what can I say about this one? It’s probably the most enjoyable, most entertaining, most emotionally resonant, best all-around entry in the InCryptid series to date.

Verity and Dominic are living with her parents, which is going about as well as you could expect, and trying to get used to life outside of NYC when Verity gets a call from the reality show she came thiiiiiis close to winning before we met her in Discount Armageddon (well, her cover identity got a call, technically). They’re doing a best-of season, and need her to round out the cast.

Next thing they know, they’re working up a new cover for Dominic and heading for L. A. Where we meet Verity’s long-lost besties, a would-be frenemy (if anyone took her seriously), and a few cryptids.

We get the return of the lady Dragons — both the group we met in Discount as well as L.A.’s very own, plus a few others. The cryptid cultures of L. A. (and the West in general) developed in very interesting ways. Sadly, one of the things that seems to be pretty popular are snake cults — there’s one that seems to be pretty serious about things and are using human sacrifices to power a spell.

Which means that Verity has to do a little more than just dance, she has to find the cultists before it’s too late. She calls upon friends new and old, Dominic, even the Aeslin mice and a Price that we’ve heard of, just never met. Leading to a final confrontation that’s one for the ages — and nothing will be the same again for the Prices family. I’m not so sure that it’ll be the same again for anyone.

I’d happily read about any and all of the new cryptids we meed here again, and most of the humans, too (not the evil ones, just for the record). McGuire’s assembled a great bunch of characters for this one.

I love the fact that not only do we get to see the Aeslin mice developing new religious celebrations, but we see them in action — putting their tiny little lives on the line to save the day. I also like to see Verity coming to grips with the choices she’s been making the last few years, what that means for her, and what place dancing and the rest have in her life.

Major kudos to McGuire for getting me to give a rip — not much of one, but still — about dance competitions. I don’t get dance — I mean dancing, I get. I’m no good at it, but I get. But watching dance — any form – I just don’t see the appeal. But for a few pages here and there I was almost interested in Verity’s other career. That’s a pretty major accomplishment.

Now I’ve just got to settle in and wait a year for lil’ sister Antimony’s first novel. Is it 2017 yet?

—–

4 Stars

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