Book Review

Review: Half-Off Ragnarok By Seanan McGuire

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Title: Half-Off Ragnorok
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publication Info: DAW March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7564-0811-4
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Book Half off Ragnarok - an illustration of a dude in a labcoat with a gun and a woman in shorts and a green shirt (and cleavage) also with a gun

I’m a huge fan of Seanan McGuire, so I was thrilled when an ARC of Half-Off Ragnorak showed up on my front porch.  It was like Christmas, y’all.  This installment  of the InCryptid series switches gears, leaving Verity, the heroine of the first two books, off in the big city while Alex, her brother, takes center stage.

Alex is a member of the Price family.  The Prices are a family of people who study cryptids.  Cryptids are, essentially, monsters, although such a harsh term hardly seems to apply to cute critters like the Aeislin Mice, who worship the Price family and greet everything with “HAIL”!  I love the mice and in fact one of my notes for this book reads “Needs more mice”. 

Anyway, Alex specializes in studying reptilian and amphibious cryptids.  He works as a herpetologist at a zoo under a fake identity.  The fake identity is key to his safety, as the Price family has been hunted by another group called The Covenant for generations.  The Price family believes in studying cryptids and protecting any who are harmless while killing any who can’t be persuaded or prevented from killing.  The Covenant has a policy of killing any and all cryptids, regardless of any threat these cryptids show to either other cryptids or to humans.

Alex is tentatively dating a woman who works at the zoo with the big cats.  Her name is Shelby.  Shelby is from Australia.  She’s getting pretty fed up by the fact that her quasi-boyfriend is never around, but Alex constantly has to dissect mythological creatures and write reports on them at a moment’s notice (for SCIENCE!) and he can’t tell her what he’s doing.  When a person at the zoo is discovered dead by apparently supernatural means, Alex’s family and Shelby and the local cryptid community all quickly become involved as Alex and Shelby try to solve the murder and keep from being killed themselves.

Good stuff first – this book is fun.  I love me some angst-ridden urban fantasy and paranormal stuff as much as the next reader, but the InCryptid novels are a breath of fresh air with a tone that is light and funny and action-packed while never losing a sense of emotional engagement with the reader.  I care about these people (most of them, anyway) and that keeps the pages turning as I can’t wait to see What Happens Next. 

Another thing I love about the series in general and this entry in particular is its careful attention to detail.  Because Alex is a scientist, he’s meticulous about describing the various creatures he encounters and how they interact with him as well as others of their kind.  I never get tired of his encounters with beings like Lindworms and Wadjets.  The Price family is far more likely to deal with cuckoos and waheela than with vampires and werewolves, and much as I love vampires and werewolves I find the change to be original and exciting and refreshing.

Given my long-standing scientist fetish, you’d think I’d be crazy about Alex, but I found him to be a bit smug.  He’s not intolerably smug.  I didn’t hate him.  I kind of liked him.  But I thought sometimes he was a bit too self-satisfied with regard to how very well he knows his stuff and how very perfectly equipped he is to handle everything.  Shelby is competent and knowledgeable in her field, but while Alex seems to know everything about everything, Shelby only knows about Australia.  There are many scenes in which Alex explains what’s going on to Shelby and to his family (and some in which Shelby explains her situation to Alex and to his family) and those scenes got pretty repetitive. 

Shelby should have come across as a kick-ass heroine, and I liked her.  But I was frustrated because I never felt like she got to be Alex’s equal.  She’s more like a sidekick.  I expect that her character will develop more over the next two books, because that’s what happened with Dominic in the last two Incryptid books.  But even when he first appeared, Dominic was as academically knowledgeable and capable as Verity.  They had a difference of philosophy involving little things like wanton murder, but I never doubted that he could hold his own, or that Verity could hold her own.

Shelby is fast, strong, and smart, but she has to be rescued by Alex all the damn time.  She’s good at saying the right thing to defuse tense situations, but other than that she’s not terribly helpful.  Her expertise is in big cats and Australian animals, none of which applies here.  This is not a romance novel, but it does have a romance, and I don’t feel invested in it at all.  I think Alex is smug and slightly patronizing, and I’d much rather read about the adventures of Shelby in Australia, especially if she gets to save her own damn self once in a while when she’s on her home ground.

Let’s be clear – despite my criticisms, I had a great time reading this book and I’ll read all the other ones in the series forever because I’m a total fangirl.  Parts of this book worked better than the two previous books.  I liked Alex’s scientific approach to things.  I liked that while neither Verity nor Dominic can communicate worth a darn, Alex and Shelby communicate just fine, once Alex stops his whole “I’m just this guy at the zoo, nothing weird about me” charade.  Parts of the book were less effective.  I didn’t have a sense of Alex and Shelby as a team.  Speaking personally and subjectively, I’m not as drawn to Alex as a hero as I was to Verity.  But overall, this was a fun book.  Given the high level of attention to detail, it was probably very hard to write, but it was an absolute lark to read!


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Tam says:

    I just got an email from Amazon apologising that my copy of ‘Half-Off Ragnarok’ will not reach me today due to the weather in my area.  We’re on our fourteenth snow day so far, and oh,  I was kind of hoping that the book would make it today.  And then I saw this review, and now I’m blowing a big raspberry at the internet.

    I did enjoy the first two very much, and I hope she does a book about Verity’s baby sister as well.

  2. 2
    Dora says:

    The issues with the romance sound like my problems with the first few books, where it was just sort of there and not developed well enough for me, largely because Verity’s boyfriend was nowhere near as fleshed out as Verity herself. He just seemed more plot device than character. I had to force myself to keep from skimming whenever the relationship stuff came up, because honestly it was nowhere near as interesting or (oddly for a book about the supernatural) believable compared to the rest. I think I needed more scenes of Verity and whatsisface getting to know each other on a personal level before they leapt right to the melodramatic tears and professions of endless love. I’m still going to have to pick this up, though, because the world building in this series is PHENOMENAL. I love that she focuses so much on more than just vampires and werewolves, and that there are all these really fascinating creatures from all over the world instead. It made it feel at times less like an urban fantasy and more like a celebration of culture and mythology, and I just want to be like, “Yes, all of the yes, more of that please, enough with the boring romance and the knights.”

  3. 3
    Joy says:

    OK, OK, I give up!  I liked the earlier review of this series and so recommended my library buy the first two books.  Read them, loved them. BUT this does it.  I let the moths out of my pocketbook (remember the old cartoons?) and just bought all three cause I checked out the first book again.  Any re-read like that means I really should spring for the digital copies.

    I’ve read random books in McGuire’s other series but never got hooked.  Something about the crazy sauce that is the Price family appealed to me….but to be real I must admit a big crush on the mice.  Don’t know if fricken and pet octopus can make up for mice who break into religious chants over your life but this world is quirky enough I can’t wait to read the third in the series.

  4. 4
    Christine says:

    I really love this series, although this book is not moving along as fast as the other ones did for me (I am at about 70%).

    It is funny, but I agree with Dora. In a book that is filled with really, really unbelievable things, the least believable part of it for me was the romance between Alex and Shelby. He keeps saying things like (to paraphrase) “I had to stop myself from proposing right then and there” but he, at the same time, has been blowing her off for weeks. Yes, I can buy feathered lizards, and snake people, and three different cassifications of Gorgons. I can buy petrifaction (McGuire’s brilliant word for “turning to stone) as a cause of death, secret colonies of cryptids with their own “fringe” groups, and that St. George’s dragon slayers are real. But I didn’t really buy that Alex was in love with Shelby.

    I am hooked on this series, and will continue to devour it, but I was a titch disappointed in this one.

    @ Joy, there are Aerin Mice in this one, too. Alex has his own colony that travels with him.

  5. 5
    chacha1 says:

    I just finished the first Incryptid novel and I liked it quite a lot – certainly enough to get the second.  The romance with Verity and Dominic worked for me.  Mostly, I think, because she is a character who is borderline-obsessed and needed (for me) to be balanced by someone with a different worldview, who made her actually think through and articulate why his monsters are not her monsters, as it were. 

    I bought his character growth and the sexual component as well.  We’ve all been there with the high-intensity, maybe-we-did-this-too-soon attraction, right? (I hope?)

    There was a lot of world-building to be accomplished and I appreciated that it did not hold up the storytelling.  So yeah, I’m in.  :-)

  6. 6
    Tam says:

    Right, just finished it, and well, you can add me to the list of people who found Alex and Shelby less than convincing.  She just didn’t seem very desirable.  Dominic and Verity’s conflicts seemed to engender real sparks, but I have the feeling that Shelby will get on a plane soon and Alex will get on with his next project with a vague flicker of regret.

    I did love the whole Incryptid world in general.  I wonder if Artie will ever get a book?

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