Universal Monster Book Tag


Witty and Sarcastic Book Club tagged me in her little creation—a tag based on Universal’s Classic Movie Monsters. There’s a lot of recency bias in my pics, but oh well—I liked the list. I really need to do more things like this, it was fun.

While trying to come up with the last couple of entries for this, I took a Facebook break and read a couple of posts on a Nero Wolfe fan group, and realized I could fill my blanks from that Corpus. Then it occurred to me that I could do one of these with entries only from the Nero Wolfe series. Or, the Spenser series. Huh. (I’d have trouble with some other series depending how you define “sequel” below). Watch me control the impulse.

bullet Dracula: a book with a charismatic villain
The Silence of the Lambs
My Pick: Gotta go with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, every other charismatic villain I can think of pales in comparison.
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: (yeah, so much for restraint—this was a fun additional challenge) Paul Chapin in The League of Frightened Men (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: The Gray Man in Small Vices

bullet The Invisible Man: A book that has more going on than meets the eye
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity
My Pick: The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Even in the Best Families
Bonus Spenser Pick: Early Autumn

bullet Wolf-Man: A complicated character
Needle Song
My Pick: Doc Slidesmith in Needle Song (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Can I just use Nero Wolfe? Eh, Orrie Cather in A Family Affair
Bonus Spenser Pick: Patricia Utley in Mortal Stakes

bullet Frankenstein: A book with a misunderstood character
The Unkindest Tide
My Pick: The Luidaeg in The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Over My Dead Body (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: Hawk, A Promised Land

bullet The Bride of Frankenstein: A sequel you enjoyed more than the first book
Stoned Love
My Pick: Stoned Love by Ian Patrick (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: The League of Frightened Men (yeah, that’s the second time this shows up, but it’s the sequel…) (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: God Bless the Child

bullet Creature from the Black Lagoon: An incredibly unique book
A Star-Reckoner's Lot

(there’s a better cover now, but this is the first)

My Pick: A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Some Buried Ceasar (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: A Savage Place

bullet The Mummy: A book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?)
Every Heart a Doorway
My Pick: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: This applies to almost every one of them, I’m going to go with The Doorbell Rang
Bonus Spenser Pick: The Judas Goat

I’m not going to tag anyone, but I’d encourage any reader to give it a shot. I’d like to see your lists.

Also, I’ve been thinking for awhile I needed to do a re-read of the Spenser series. This post has convinced me I really need to get on that.

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The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire: The Luidaeg takes Center Stage in this Water-filled Adventure

The Unkindest Tide

The Unkindest Tide

by Seanan McGuire

Series: Toby Daye, #13

Hardcover, 301 pg.
DAW Books, 2019

Read: September 10-11, 2019

I finally took my eyes off the water, peering at her through the disheveled curtain of my hair. “Are you just babbling at me until I start feeling better?”

“Yup!” Marcia beamed. “Is it working?”

My stomach was no longer roiling. I didn’t trust myself to stand up on my own, but I also didn’t feel like I was about to introduce the barnacles to my breakfast. Again. I blinked. “Actually, yes.”

“Sometimes you need to take peoples’ minds off their problems if you want those problems to resolve themselves,” said Marcia. “Focusing on things can make them worse.”

“Not all problems go away if you ignore them. Most don’t.”

“No, but not all problems can be fixed. Sometimes you have to wait until the situation changes.” She smiled sympathetically. “Like if you’re on a boat and you get seasick.”

Yup. Toby’s on a boat—a sailing ship, to be precise—just the place for someone who hates water. Why is she there? Well, that has something to do with the debt she owes the Luidaeg. The Luidaeg has decided that time is up and it’s now time to pay that mysterious bill she told the Selkies was coming due. And Toby has to come along to help her collect. A couple of months ago, when I listened to the audiobook of One Salt Sea, I wondered what happened to that ominous future event, so that was nice to see. On the other hand, we’re told that this was nearly three years ago, which means it takes only three-ish years for books 6-12 to occur? That’s an eventful life right there.

Because they’re apt to be useful, and because Toby isn’t likely to come nicely without them, the Luidaeg also brings Tybalt and Quentin along on their trip to the Duchy of Ships, where a convocation of Selkies will be held to pay this bill. Due to the significance of this happening, a few other dignitaries come, too—delegations from the Kingdom of the Mists, the Duchy of Saltmist, and Goldengreen—oh, and Gillian (which makes sense for people who’ve read the previous book, Night and Silence).

So we’ve got a group of Toby’s friends, a new Duchy for most of them to visit, a bunch of debts the Luidaeg is collecting, and the fate of an entire race in the balance. What could go wrong?

Naturally, that’s the wrong question. SOmething better to ask is: how many pints of blood will Toby lose while trying to fix what goes wrong and how many others will die? Obviously, I’m not going to answer those, but we need to get our thinking straight.

Something I want to mention before I forget: Before the Sea Witch shows up at her door, Toby’s narration gives a very thorough and succinct recap of the entire series (one of the best of those I’ve read lately, it’s a tricky thing to accomplish) before noting

…there’s a lot of history around here, and sometimes it doesn’t summarize very well.

It’s a small thing, but it made me smile—McGuire excels at those.

The Luidaeg has got to be just about the most popular character in this series, and we really get to know her so much better here than we have before—and it made me so happy to see this. I’d gladly take another Luidaeg-centric book or three any day of the week. Seeing her at this turning point in all her power and all her grief is just stunning. I don’t think I’d ever felt bad for her (at least not for long), but watching her being resolute in carrying out the duty she was bound to here—while clearly not wanting to go through with it—was moving. Early in the book, there’s a scene between her and a little girl that just about broke my heart. At the same time, she has plenty of great lines and made me chuckle a lot, too. Her interactions with Quentin (and vice versa) might be my favorite parts of the book.

The Luidaeg/Selkie story was strong enough that I don’t care so much about the rest of the book, which is good, because I think it’s one of her weakest. There’s an adventure in Saltmist that seemed pretty perfunctory and while the ending is very clever—and gives Toby a chance to embrace the technicalities of Faerie in a way she usually doesn’t (that is, keeping the letter of the law, but doing a tap dance all around the intent)— it seemed anti-climatic. We have a great build-up and then an almost let-down of a conclusion.

A few quick bullet points that I don’t have the time to expand on (nor do I think I could do them justice without talking too much about them):

  • No one expected, I trust, that things between Toby and Gillian would get better after Night and Silence, but it was tough (yet understandable and believable) to read Gillian’s reactions to Toby here.
  • There are repeated references to the weakness/susceptibility to harm of one member of Toby’s group—McGuire hit that note so often that I really feared for that character. One that I didn’t realize I liked as much as I did when I feared for their safety and longevity.
  • We get to meet another Firstborn! She’s just fantastic and I hope we get to see more of her. Also, the reactions of various members of her descendant races to meeting her in the flesh were priceless.
  • Someone’s blind fosterage is getting harder to maintain. That could prove interesting (and in the Toby-verse, interesting usually is defined as calamitous)
  • Clearly, Toby’s reputation as someone who topples monarchies has spread far and wide. This isn’t good for her, but will be good for us readers.
  • Marcia continues to show more depth and ability than I gave her credit for when we met (which surprises me almost every time we see it)
  • What we’re told about future books here (in terms of Toby’s future obligations) is enough to get long-term readers excited (not that we needed the encouragement, really, but it’s nice to know)

This isn’t one of the best in the series—but it features some of the best moments, scenes, events. It’s not a trade-off I’m entirely pleased with, but I can live with it (and thankfully the good far outweighed the less-good). It’s safe to say that a lot won’t be the same again in this world or for many of these characters. Any time I spend with Toby, Tybalt, Quentin, the Luidaeg, etc. is a good time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the read, I just wanted a bit more from an author who usually brings more than you could realistically ask for.


4 Stars

That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire: Annie at the Crossroads (literally, mystically, metaphorically, and probably a couple of other adverbs, too)

That Ain't WitchcraftThat Ain’t Witchcraft

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #8

Paperback, 357 pg.
Daw Books, 2019
Read: April 24 – 29, 2019

           I didn’t know these woods. I’d never been to Maine before, and [didn’t have any of the family bestiaries to prepare me for what I might find. There are cryptids everywhere in the world, which only makes sense, when you consider “cryptid” means “science doesn‘t know about it yet.” New species are discovered every year, brought into the scientific fold and lifted out of cryptozoological obscurity. These days the word mostly gets used to mean the big stuff some people say is real and other people say is a big hoax, like Bigfeet, unicorns, and the occasional giant snake.

(Always assume the giant snakes are real. The alternative is finding yourself being slowly digested in the belly of something you didn’t want to admit existed, and while I’m as fond of healthy skepticism as the next girl, I’m a lot more fond of continuing to have my original skin. As in, the one I was born with, not the one the snake has left me with after a little recreational swallowing me whole.)

After Annie, Sam, Fern and Cylia leave Florida and the disaster that was left in their wake, they bounce around a little before settling on something that is about as non-Florida as you can get on that side of the country — central Maine. They find a house that needs a tenant for a few months while the owner is off to Europe and settle in to enjoy a time off the roads to regroup, rest and recuperate.

Ahh, such a good idea.

But first, they meet a neighbor, James Smith. It turns out that he’s a sorcerer, who’s itching for a fight with the Crossroads for the way they fulfilled (or didn’t) a deal with a friend of his from a few years’ back. Annie owes the Crossroads something, and it just might come time to pay up — which isn’t good news for James. If that wasn’t enough, Leonard Cunningham — Annie’s Covenant connection and the presumptive future leader of the group comes to town on her tail.

So much for the three R’s.

Annie’s solution to the problems she faces here is so… Annie. On the one hand, this is obvious, she’s a different character than Alex or Verity — and this series has never been the kind where the Price kids are interchangeable. But there is just no way that Verity or Alex would even consider doing what Annie tries. In many ways, she reminded me of Harry Dresden with the way that she dealt with the final problem. No, not by throwing a lot of fire, snark and energy around, but by coming at the problem in a way that you just don’t see coming (although, that’s not ruling out snark and fire) that seems more than a little reckless. Up to that point, Annie and crew had reminded me a lot of Sam and Dean Winchester and their crew.

This was really such a great way to wrap up this Annie arc — it’s going to be hard to put her aside for a book or three. Verity’s a lot of fun, Alex is a great reluctant hero who’d rather be researching things — but Annie? Annie’s really my kind of Urban Fantasy character — in the vein of Dresden, Atticus O’Sullivan, Ree Reyes, etc. And her friends are a lot of fun, too. The only thing this book is missing that’d really make it fantastic are the Aeslin mice — their absence is felt, particularly because Annie can’t stop thinking about them. Of all the things that McGuire has brought into my life, these mice are my favorite — and it’s been too long since I’ve had a decent dose of them.

I’m not sure how to talk about this without digging into details — and I’m this close to tossing out my spoiler policy and pulling an all-nighter to produce 20-30 pages about the InCryptid Dire Straits Trilogy. So much of what makes this book work is as its the culmination of this trilogy-within-the-greater-series. While I don’t think the book is perfect, I don’t remember a single problem I had with it — and felt the same way while reading it. Everything worked — the voice, the characters, the villains, the stakes, the challenges, the solution, the emotions, the quips, the action. I spent a good deal of time unsure how many of Annie’s little group were going to survive, and this isn’t normally that kind of series. I don’t think I actually shed a tear at the height of the novel — they weren’t far from the surface. This met and exceeded every expectation I had for this book and made me rethink my estimation of the series as a whole.

This is easily the best of this very good series — in fact, were this the final book in the series, I’d be satisfied. I’m very, very glad that it isn’t — please don’t misunderstand — but if it were… Heart, humor, thrills, and a very clever conclusion, pulled off in a way that the whole series has been leading to, but you don’t see coming. I don’t know how McGuire can equal it — much less top it. But since we’re talking Seanan McGuire, she will, probably not in book 9, but soon. Go get it — you’ll be better off if you start with #1 (Discount Armageddon), but you could get away with starting at #6 (Magic for Nothing), you can still appreciate a lot of the goodness if you jump on here, but you’ll miss so much you won’t enjoy it the way you could.

—–

5 Stars

In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire: Another Wayward Child’s story — magical, enchanting, heartbreaking. You know the drill.

In an Absent DreamIn an Absent Dream

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #4

Hardcover, 204 pg.
Tor Books, 2018
Read: January 9, 2019

           …the worst she was ever called where anyone might here was “teacher’s pet,” which she took, not as an insult, but rather as a statement of fact. She was Katherine, she was the teacher’s pet, and when she grew up, she was going to be a librarian, because she couldn’t imagine knowing there was a job that was all about books and not wanting to do it.

Here’s a quick recap of this series for those of you who haven’t heard about it yet/have ignored everything I’ve said about the series these last few years: Imagine Children who go off to a magical kingdom for a bit from our world — Narnia, Fillory, the Lands Beyond, Neverland, Lyrian, whatever you call that land on the other side of the fourteenth door in Coraline, etc. — and then return home. Some will go on to live “normal” lives — others can’t forget or outgrow their attachment to the magical world — some of those, those who want more than anything to return to whatever was on the other side of the door wind up at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. This series is about some of those children.

There’s a basic outline to these books — McGuire introduces you to a Child and a new world. Her language will be lyrical, playful and enchanting. She’ll draw you in with the awe and wonder and while you’re not looking, she’ll set the hook, and you will be as emotionally tied to her characters as you are close family members*. Then something devastating will happen to those characters, and you will feel horrible, yet love the experience. No matter what kind of resolution is found in the book (death, rescue, brokenness), when you close the book you’ll almost instantly start waiting until the next book comes out, because McGuire is just that good.

In this book we meet Katherine — Katherine’s never been good at making friends her age (there are justifiable reasons for this), but she likes talking to adults more, she likes rules, and she loves reading. There’s something about each Wayward Child that readers can identify with, but Katherine is more relatable to readers than the others have been. One day, Katherine comes upon a tree that hadn’t been there before. This tree had a door in it, and before she realized what was happening — she was on the other side of the door, walking down a hall, on her way to a Goblin Market. In the last book, we saw a nonsense world — this is a logic world, through and through. There are rules, enforced by everyone who lives there — and somehow, by the world itself.

Unlike that (mostly) tongue-in-cheek outline above, each of these books are so different from the rest, it’s hard to compare them — so I’ll try not to. But the structure of this seems more different than the others have. So I’m not going to tell you any more about the plot than I have — I’ll just say it’s a great story, incredibly well told — and even when the narration tells you the ending is not going to be “kind”, you keep expecting/hoping/wanting for things to work out for Katherine and her loved ones.

I’ve made the ending sound bad — it’s not “happy,” but I’m not complaining, I’m not criticizing, I’m most definitely not warning a reader away. It’s the right ending for this story, it’s absolutely how things needed to go — but this is not the Feel-Good Novella of the Year. It is wonderfully written, beautifully written, imaginative, awe-inspiring, delightful, and eventually heartbreaking. McGuire’s one of the best at work today — and this is proof of it.

Yes, you can read these out-of-order — but I don’t recommend it. And hey, were talking 200 pages or less each, you’ve got time for that. You’ll be glad you did (once you stop feeling horrible)


* That might be a bit hyperbolic.

—–

5 Stars

My Favorite Non-Crime Fiction of 2018

When I was trying to come up with a Top 10 this year, I ran into a small problem (at least for me). With 44 percent of my fiction, Crime/Thriller/Mystery novels so dominated the candidates, it’s like I read nothing else. So, I decided to split them into 2 lists — one for Crime Fiction and one for Everything Else. Not the catchiest title, I grant you, but you get what you pay for.

I do think I read some books that were technically superior than some of these — but they didn’t entertain me, or grab me emotionally the way these did. And I kinda feel bad about leaving them off. But only kind of. These are my favorites, the things that have stuck with me in a way others haven’t — not the best things I read (but there’s a good deal of overlap, too). I know I read books that are worse, too — I don’t feel bad about leaving them off.

Anyway…I say this every year, but . . . Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

Enough blather…on to the list.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Lies SleepingLies Sleeping

by Ben Aaronovitch

My original post
I’ve read all the comics (at least collected in paperback), listened to all the audiobooks, read the books at least once . . . I’m a Rivers of London/Peter Grant fan. Period. Which means two things — 1. I’m in the bag already for this series and 2. When I say that this is the best of the bunch, I know what I’m talking about. Aaronovitch writes fantastic Urban Fantasy and this is his best yet. The series has been building to this for a while, and I honestly don’t know what to expect next. Great fight/action scenes, some genuine laughs, some solid emotional moments . . . this has it all. Everything you’ve come to expect and more.

—–

5 Stars

The Fairies of SadievilleThe Fairies of Sadieville

by Alex Bledsoe

My original post
I was very excited about this book when Bledsoe announced it was the last Tufa novel. Then I never wanted it to come out — I didn’t want to say goodbye to this wonderful world he’d created. But if I have to — this is how the series should’ve gone out. It’s the best installment since the first novel — we get almost every question we had about the Tufa answered (including ones you didn’t realize you had), along with a great story. It’s just special and I’m glad I got to read this magical series.

—–

5 Stars

Dragon RoadDragon Road

by Joseph Brassey

I haven’t been able to get a post written about this — I’m not sure why. It’s superior in almost every way to the wonderful Skyfarer — the idea behind the caravan, the scope of the ship and it’s culture are more than you might think anyone has done before. A fantasy novel about wizards and warriors (and warrior wizards) in a SF setting. I had a blast reading this and I think you will, too.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

My original post
Probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing. The characters are fun, well-developed and pretty strange. This is a great fantasy story, it’s a great bunch of laughs, but there’s real humans and real human reactions — it’s not all laughs but enough of it is that you won’t have to work hard to thoroughly enjoy the book.

—–

4 Stars

Kings of the WyldKings of the Wyld

by Nicholas Eames
Like Dragon Road, I’ve been trying to write a post about this book for months. An epic story about brotherhood, about family, about heroism, about integrity — but at its core, it’s a story about Clay Cooper. Clay’s a good man trying to stay one. He worked really hard to get to where he is, but he has to get back on the road to help his friends’ daughter. It’s a fantastic concept and set up, with an even better follow-through by Eames. Possibly the best book I read last year — and I don’t say that lightly.

—–

5 Stars

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's FaultAll Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

by James Alan Gardner

My original post
A Superhero story, a SF story, an Urban Fantasy, a story about friendship and destiny told with just enough of a light touch to fool yourself into this being a comedy. From the great title, all the way through to the end this book delivers.

—–

4 Stars

Smoke EatersSmoke Eaters

by Sean Grigsby

My original post
I started my original post about the book like this: Really, the case for you (or anyone) reading this book is simply and convincingly made in 13 words:

Firefighters vs. Dragons in an Urban Fantasy novel set in a futuristic dystopia.

That could’ve been my entire post, and it’s all I’m going to say now.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Dark QueenDark Queen

by Faith Hunter

My original post
This could have been the series finale and I’d have been satisfied. I’m thrilled that it’s not. Hunter’s been building to this for a few books now — and it absolutely pays off the work she’s been doing. Better yet, there’s something else she’s been building toward that doesn’t get the attention it needed — and it’s devastating. The series will be different from here on out. Hunter’s as good as the genre has, and this book demonstrates it.

—–

5 Stars

Jimbo YojimboJimbo Yojimbo

by David W. Barbee

My original post
I don’t have words for this. I really don’t know how to say anything about this book — especially not in a paragraph. Click on the original post and know that even then I fail to do the book justice. It’s strange, gross, funny, exciting and thrilling.

—–

4 Stars

Beneath the Sugar SkyBeneath the Sugar Sky

by Seanan McGuire

My original post
As much as I appreciate McGuire’s Toby Daye, Indexing and InCryptid series, her Wayward Children books are possibly the best things she’d done. This allows us to spend time with characters I didn’t think we’d see again and the family — and world — of my favorite character in the series. It’s like McGuire wrote this one specifically for me. But it’s okay for you to read it, too. I’m generous like that.

—–

5 Stars

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire: Toby Daye’s shattered world gets another blow — can she survive?

I was sure I wrote this up already. How did I take over a month to get this up? Something is wrong with me . . .

Night and SilenceNight and Silence

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #12

Hardcover, 368 pg.
Daw, 2018
Read: September 6 – 10, 2018

“Um, this IS Toby,” sald Quentin. “We’re always about to die. When we’re not about to die, we’re still about to be about to die. She’s like a Rube Goldberg machine whose only job is generating .life-threatening situations.”

What a difference a book makes — at the beginning of The Brightest Fell, Toby was happy, her life was looking good, she was relaxing — and then trouble struck. At the beginning of this book, she’s probably in the worst straits she’s been in since getting out of the fish pond. Toby and her loved ones are still reeling from and dealing with the repercussions of that last novel (“not dealing with” might be more accurate, but why quibble?). Jazz is messed up in ways that are hard to fathom; her relationship with mentor/champion/sponsor, Sylvester, is in shambles; and worst of all, her fiancé is a shattered version of himself, barely able to be in the same room with her.

And then the other shoe drops (at this point, you might be thinking we’re talking about an Imelda Marcos-sized collection, as many of these have dropped): her very human daughter, Gillian has been kidnapped — and her father and step-mother are accusing Toby.

Yeah, kidnapped again. But this time it’s worse (and the last time was no walk in the dark). If anything is going to prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back — this could be it. Toby, May, Quentin — and some other allies band together to find the girl before something happens to her that will make the last kidnapping look pedestrian.

Sylvester is around for a lot of this novel — I was afraid he wouldn’t be. Sylvester has long been one of the — maybe the — best part of the series, and to see him in this state? It took so much away from this book. I know that’s the point, and I want to stress I’m not complaining — but man…it sucked. A lot of the emotional beats to this part of the story seemed to repeat themselves — and I wondered if it was a little filler. I decided that as often as Toby was reassuring Tybalt that they could work through things and get him better, McGuire was reassuring the reader that Sylvester could be recovered. I’m not sure it’s the case, but I’m going with that explanation.

This book has the best use of May since . . . well, probably since we met her in this form. Usually, May is too much in the background for my taste. But not in this novel. She’s strong, she’s emotional — she’s a major player in the events of this novel. We need to see her as active as she is here more often.

The debt that Toby keeps incurring to the Luidaeg is getting huge. Aunt or no, she can’t keep going like this forever, and at some point the sea witch is going to collect. This is going to be horrible.

Along the way, we learn a great deal about Toby’s human family — some of which will make the reader’s jaw drop, all of which will make Toby reconsider things — and like so much of what we’ve learned the last couple of books, what we’ve “known” before wasn’t necessarily right.

This isn’t the strongest Toby Daye novel, but an “iffy” Toby novel is still rocking by other series’ standards. This was a strong, satisfying read — as troubling as it was. And the next one isn’t going to be much easier to read — but I know it’ll be worth it. I don’t know that this is the book to jump on the series with, but it might work. But I can assuring long-term readers that this will scratch that itch just fine.

—–

4 Stars

Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire

Tricks for FreeTricks for Free

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #7

Mass Market Paperback, 346 pg.
DAW Books, 2018

Read: March 13 – 17, 2018

           There are people who say you never really escape from high school, you just keep finding it in different forms, over and over again, until it finally kills you. Those people are assholes, and should not be allowed in polite company. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
           The room seemed even larger without the safety of the elevator behind me. I took a few hesitant steps forward, wishing I had a knife, or better yet, twenty knives, or better yet, twenty knives and a brick of C-4. Plastic explosives are a strange and dangerous security blanket, but they tend to make whatever’s scaring me go away quickly, so I’m in favor.

Whenever possible, frequent/regular readers know, I like to start off these posts with a quotation from the book that sums up the feel, the character, or just makes me smile. I couldn’t decide this time what to go with, so I used both — one from a flashback to high school which is just perfect for everyone who views it as something they survived, and the other that captures Annie’s voice oh-so-well.

Because of [Spoilers Redacted] at the end of Magic for Nothing, Annie’s on the run and on her own. Her family doesn’t know where she is (and hasn’t heard directly from her to keep it that way), her friends know nothing — she doesn’t even have a single Aeslin mouse with her. She could not possibly be more alone in the world. She lucks into a job at Lowryland — an amusement park near DisneyWorld — thanks to running into a teammate from high school who is an executive there. It’s not a glamorous job — she works in knick-knack shops, does clean up, works in food kiosks, etc. for far too little money. But there’s enough people around that she can hide in and almost no spell or anything the Covenant (or anyone else) tries to use to find her will work in that setting.

She’s living in the employee apartments near the park with a couple of cryptids. One is from her old Roller Derby team, who, as luck would have it, started working for Lowryland around the same time. The other roommate is a Pliny’s Gorgon, working as a resident at the Lowryland hospital. Tying this book back to Half-Off Ragnorack is a nice touch (and works out well for other reasons). It’s not the best life, but she’s content enough, she’s safe enough, and there are good people in her life.

Until things start to go wrong at the park, some magic users discover that she’s hiding there (they’re also hiding from the Covenant, so that works out), and people are getting hurt. Making this a question of can Annie stop whatever’s going on at the park without revealing herself to the Covenant and putting her friends in danger?

So there’s the setup — does McGuire pull it off? Yeah, stupid question. She does and she does it well.

First, she nails Annie’s emotional state — probably better than she does Verity’s often. Annie’s in a very vulnerable place — emotionally, psychologically, physically — and you can feel that.

           I went very still as it struck me that, tight now,l was living like a cryptid. l was hiding from people who wanted to do me harm as much because of who 1 was as because of anything I’d done. That was normal — being a Price meant I‘d had a bounty on my head horn the day l was born — but the isolation that came with it was new. The need to view everyone around me as a potential danger, to hide, it was all new, and it burned. There were dragons working all over Lowryland, and while none of them were part of my personal clique of Mean Girls, none of them knew my name either. It wasn’t safe. It might never be safe again, not until we’d found a way to end the danger posed by the Covenant — and that was something we’d been trying to accomplish for generations.

That vulnerability runs throughout this book — even when Annie’s at her most “rah-rah, we can do this, team” she’s very aware that everything is seconds away from disaster. This brings a richness of character to Annie that Alex and Verity don’t have (at least not to the same extent), if you ask me, this brings Annie into Toby Daye territory and elevates this series as a whole because of it.

You may have noticed a repeated use of the word luck above — that’s purposeful. Luck, as a concept, permeates these pages. It’s not a very clear concept to most of the characters, but it gets clarified by [Spoilers Redacted]. As one more magical system in this world that has a variety of them — that overlap, run parallel, and make a general mish-mash of things, it’s great. I think it’s a clever addition and I enjoyed watching it play out here, and anticipate continuing to affect things down the road.

The major flaw comes in how Annie pulls things off — in humble opinion. Throughout the book, there’s a warning given Annie — don’t do X. Beauty isn’t supposed to go in that part of the castle, Egon warns Ray and Venkman against crossing the streams, Annie needs to not do X. You know that all of those things will end up happening before the story’s done. Here’s my problem: it’s too easy for her to do it she makes the choice too quickly — and I’m not sure it was necessary when she did it (it may have been, this may have been a rare-stumble for McGuire where she didn’t make it clear that things were just that dire). I do know that if it’s something Annie felt the need for here, Verity sure should’ve done it back Chaos Choreography. But whatever, I’m over it — I just want to see how it plays out in the future.

One highlight for that I really can’t get into without ruining the first twelve chapters — but there’s a conversation in Chapter 13 catching up every character in Annie’s little circle with who’s who, what’s going on right now and since the last time they talked (hours or months ago), etc. This conversation just might be my favorite thing of March — reading or in Real Life™ — and it’s been a very good month. It’s just a pure joy to read.

By the way, the lack of Aeslin mice absolutely is felt throughout the book — the absence is supposed to make things feel strange, and it does. But never fear — there’s a novella starring the mice from Magic for Nothing at the back of this book. I hope when I have time to read it that it makes up for their absence.

Oh, and there’s a Priscilla Spencer map of Lowryland. Because what isn’t made better by a Priscilla Spencer map?

This is a great addition to a very fun series that adds some good depth to things, sets up our characters for a lot of trouble, and moves the series’ story as a whole down an interesting path. The next book also features Annie, but I’m sure we get back to Alex or Verity soon, and I can’t wait to see how these books without them affect their lives.

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4 Stars