May 31, 2020

Seanan McGuire: "Middlegame"

Title: Middlegame  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Middlegame (1st of 2 books - there's a companion novel planned)
Author: Seanan McGuire [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural
Year: 2019
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: A story unlike any other (despite a few familiar references), with two main characters who'll latch onto your heart and nest into it.
Cons: The alternate timelines and alchemy workings may confuse some.
WARNING! Self-harm (on page). Some gruesome deaths.
Will appeal to: Those who love a character-driven sibling story that spans years. Those who are intrigued by time travel/what-if narratives but don't necessarily like sci-fi.

Blurb: 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. (Amazon)

Review: I expected the supernatural premise to swallow me whole. I didn't expect these characters to do the same 💚.

GREATER THAN THE SUM

Let's start by getting it out of the way: Middlegame is a complex book. But I don't mean it's a complicated book. It's not like you need to solve a riddle - it's more like you have to gather lots of small and less small pieces along the way and fit them properly in the general scheme. And it's not like you have to WORK at that - you only need to pay attention. Which frankly is not a hard task, because there isn't any part or detail in this book that doesn't stand out or evoke a strong feeling/elicit a strong mental response. Look, here's the thing: an alchemist put together by his mentor like a supernatural Frankenstein, who tries to embody the Doctrine of Ethos by splitting it into couples of alchemically engineered kids (basically Language and Math, but also Chaos and Order, Earth and Air, etc.) and to perfect the results by trial and error, discarding and reassembling the defective outcomes of his experiments, in order to eventually remake the world in his image through them, but ultimately incapable to subdue their human component? Awesome. I mean, terrifying, but/and awesome. But Middlegame is so much more than a tale of an evil mastermind and the young heroes who stand against him, and a course in dark magic, and a labyrinth of alternate timelines (yep, we're treated to a few of those as well, and they're terrible and brilliant): it's, at its core, a story about sibling entanglements, and impossible choices, and endless attempts at making things right, and what defines our humanity - or lack thereof. [...]

THE HUMAN INGREDIENT

Going into Middlegame, I expected a wild ride of a story AND outstanding characters (as McGuire is wont to write), but I got so much more than I bargained for. Roger and Dodger, despite being (unwittingly) planned and shaped to be conduits for the Doctrine, are two of the most endearing, realistic protagonists I've ever had the pleasure to read about. We met them when their story (supposedly) ends, at 29; then we start from scratch and follow them from 7 to 29 years of age, with some huge gaps in between, and through all their coming-togethers and coming-aparts. Without having a clue who the other one is (at least for a long while), they can find each other across the continents and communicate in their minds, and (literally) look at the world through each other's eyes. Roger is the language master and Dodger is the math genius, and together they can not only decode the word, but make it anew, if they manage to embody the Doctrine once and for all. But all while learning who they are and what they can do, and battling the evil forces, and losing and finding each other in turns, and restarting the world multiple (and mostly forgotten) times, they feel so human - with all their faults and quirks, and their wit and fragility, and their knack for always retracing their way back to each other - that you want to give them a hug. Seriously, if McGuire ever plans to write a companion book about them brushing their teeth and shopping for groceries, I'm sure it will be nothing short of charming, and where do I sign up please.

IN A VELVET GLOVE

There's a deceptive simplicity about McGuire's prose. It never gets purple, and it doesn't necessarily relies on long sentences - on the contrary. Yet, there are a rhythm and a charm to it that less skilled writers may never master the secrets of. In a book where the characters are first kids, then teens, then adults, the writing never feels at odds with their age, and yet it never gets toned down or amped up. But outside of dialogue, and quite effortlessly (or so it sounds), the incidental bigger word makes an appearance, and it spices the prose just so without making it pretentious. I mean, someone who uses the word "profligate" in the very first page of their story without making it sound like it's just for show has my undying admiration. That's just the icing on the cake of a book that is so much bigger and better than my review can ever hope to convey 😓 😉.

For quotes from this book click here.
For more Supernatural books click here.

17 comments:

  1. Whoo hoo! Yeah for 5-star books. This author seems to be one that you consistently enjoy, so I am happy to see McGuire delivered once again. I always enjoy getting to know characters over a long period of time, and 22 years gives you quite a while to get to know them. Roger and Dodger sound wonderful

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    1. I had never read a book before where I had the chance to follow the characters for such a long span of time. It was a great experience!

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  2. I've heard this is pretty good but I haven't read it. I've read two of her books but I don't think she's really for me.

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    1. I'm sorry you didn't have a pleasant reading experience with her. Which books did you read?

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  3. Wow, sounds interesting. I'm always impressed with how McGuire can write such different types of books, and from what I've seen she does them all well, for the most part. I've only read a few of her books, but from the InCryptids series to her killer mermaid stuff, she can write anything seems like! This one sounds super unique.

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    1. I have her mermaid book on my TBR list - still on the fence about InCryptid, but I'd probably end up reading that one as well! Did you like it?

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    2. I read the first InCryptid book and liked it- cool concept- but I haven't tackled the next one yet. I liked it but didn't LOVE it, if that makes sense? Her killer memaid book and novella were CHILLING though.

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  4. I have heard so many good things about this book and really want to read it so badly! I am always interested in siblings in fiction, and I love that it goes beyond the relationship and also has such a great plot and packs an emotional punch. I so so cannot wait. Great review x

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    1. Thank you! I hope it won't disappoint (I want to say it sure won't, but I'm trying not to sound too biased LOL).

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  5. That does sound like an intriguing premise with the Frankenstein-esque being and the experiments, but I'm especially glad to hear the characters are so good! Maybe I'll give the audiobook a try sometime.

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    1. If you do, keep in mind that this is a very long book! over 500 pages.

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  6. This was a super ambitious story. The ending missed the mark a bit for me ( I thought it drifted in too many directions) but I adored the brother/sister dynamics.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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    1. "This was a super ambitious story."
      It was! How do you think it drifted, exactly?

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  7. You know I didn't love Every Heart A Doorway, and while three stars is a positive rating for many, it sure isn't for me. At least not in the sense that *I* want to read more by the author - though I can (and do, if that's the case) acknowledge that it would work well for certain readers. (I've just made this so complicated, haha.) Anyhow, that reading experience didn't make me excited for more by the author, though I'm still interested in two of her adult novels (Feed and Into the Drowning Deep). Even so, your review has just convinced me to add this to my tbr for now. :)

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    1. OMG - what a huge responsibility, if you ever read this one 😂.

      My experience with McGuire so far has taught me that, while she has a recognisable style, each and every one of her books/series is unique - so, who knows, you might be luckier with this one!

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  8. Oh so glad this was complex and you enjoyed it- I'm so keen to read it!!

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