Monday, 6 May 2019

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire is a standalone novel set in a world similar to the real world, but bursting with alchemy. As far as I’m aware, it is not linked to any of McGuire’s other books or series.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

The opening of this book grabbed me immediately with the in media res working particularly well thanks to the unusual timeline structure of the book. While we do get a lot of the main story in chronological order, it is interspersed with bits that come out of order, as well as the point of view sections of the antagonist and a thematically-linked children’s fairytale. Overall it makes for an interesting reading experience. That said, I did feel like the book dragged a little in the middle and to me it felt quite long, which is the worst thing I can say about it. (Note, also, that it is objectively on the long side, but it still should not have felt that way.)

Back to the content, this is a story of alchemically created twins, separated by the length and breadth of the USA, and left to grow up in isolation. They were created to channel immense power for their maker but a lot of their upbringing was left to chance. We follow them through their lives as they learn about each other, push each other away, meet by chance, push each other away and so forth. At first I found the story a little confusing — while the start grabbed me, it took a little while to fully understand what was happening. Then I grew more invested in the characters and wanted to know what would happen next, despite the slower middle section. The climax came not a page too late, to kick off the last portion of the book.

This is a dark fantasy book, shading to the horrific, that I expect fans of McGuire’s other books will enjoy. In general tone I found it most similar to the Wayward Children books, although the story structure (and length) was quite different. It’s certainly not science fiction horror like the Mira Grant books are, though this was not immediately apparent to me when I started reading. All in all, a structurally interesting read that I recommend to fans of dark fantasy.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Tor.com
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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