Full disclosure: I got this ARC from the hands of Seanan herself. She was in Boston for a convention, and she is good friends with a good friend of mine (and she’d been a guest on my podcast last summer) so we tested to see if the Geek Social Fallacyof the Transitive Properties of Friendship worked (it seemed to). I have, however, been a fan of this series before all that happened, so while I cannot pretend to pure objectivity (although I never have, to be fair), I know what I like. And I have very happy with Half Off Ragnarok.
So, the Incryptid series, which Carrie reviewed the first two books of (Discount Armageddon here and Midnight Blue Light Special here) is about a family that studies, protects, and hunts monsters- in that order. They are Cryptozoologists, and they try to find the balance between keeping the ecology balanced, while keeping the secrets of dragons, gorgons, griffins, and everything else out of human view (humans don’t handle things well). There’s also an Evil Ancient Society that likes killing monsters (The Covenant of St. George- I always thought that dragon got a raw deal, poor baby) and talking mice.
We’ll get to the talking mice.
So book 3 is not the continuing adventures of Verity Price and Dominic de Luca- the focus switches to Alex, Verity’s older brother. He is trying to get basilisks to breed and doing a survey of the fricken (feathered frog) population of Ohio all while running the reptile house at the Cleveland Zoo. His sort-of girlfriend is a visiting Australian researcher who manages the big cats. Now, needing to keep your real job and real interests a secret from your sort-of girlfriend is not very conducive to removing that “sort-of” and things look iffy for them until two things happen: a co-worker at the zoo turns up dead and partially petrified, and Alex remembers that Shelby is from Australia – land of things evolved to fuck you up and everything you hold dear.
Alex is worthy of Shelby, is what I’m saying.
One of the things I like best about Maguire’s writing is how enthusiastic she is about things. She loves the science of creepy crawly slithery things and I’m pretty convinced that if she could figure out a way to make sure it was safe and psychologically happy, she’d totally have a pet octopus. The bigger the better. She’d even have one of those weird squids with the elbows. So she works at making the biology of the monsters as rational as possible. It’s science! There are a lot of snakes involved, which I’m not thrilled about, but that has everything to do with me and a fear of snakes (LOOK THEY DON’T HAVE LEGS IT IS JUST WEIRD) and nothing to do with anything else.
Apparently there are some people who have expressed… dismay…. at this book not continuing to be about Verity and Dominic. I suspect that romance readers will have an easier time with this- our series tend to be about a sprawling family (much like the Prices!) and each book has a different protagonist- as opposed to the trend I see more in Urban Fantasy where the whole series is about one person (Maguire’s Toby Daye books, for example). Telling the story of the big, fascinating family (one grandmother is a cuckoo, there’s a grandfather who is possibly stuck in Hell after an ill-fated trip through interdimensional planes) through multiple eyes- this is a multi-layer portrait in a richly layered world. No one does world-building quite like Maguire. I really am very excited to read about Alex and Verity’s sister Antimony. She hates everything. I can relate.
I really liked Alex, and how he’s a completely different person from Verity and yet you can see how the same upbringing produced them both. It was very clever to introduce the family with the Rebel (Verity) and then move on to the Good Kid (Alex) before we get to the One Who Just Wants To Blow Shit Up (Antimony). I LOVED Shelby, and was really happy that we didn’t go down the route of “OMGWTFBBQ MONSTERS” or certain other plot elements we’ve already explored in previous books
One of my favorite elements in this series is the Aeslin mice- they’re hyper-religious talking mice (because… of course) that have decided that the Price family are their gods. So they remember EVERYTHING. And they are both adorable and disturbing and demand cheese and cake. I wish there’d been more Aeslin mice in this book, but there is a griffin the size of a Maine Coon, so… I really shouldn’t complain too much.
Except that the griffin the size of the Maine Coon cat doesn’t exist, and I want one. That’s a problem.