July 12, 2021

Seanan McGuire: "Indexing" (Series Review)

Titles: Indexing  [on Amazon | on Goodreads] & Reflections [on Amazonon Goodreads]
Series: Indexing
Author: Seanan McGuire [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Metafiction, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural
Year: 2013-2016
Age: 16+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Inventive, exciting, trope-subverting and -abiding at the same time. Heart-warming and funny around a dark core.
Cons: Not every story is tightly connected to the others, but it's likely that they weren't written with a book in mind at first (and they do provide a sense of unity nevertheless). While both books are self-contained, there are a few loose thread (mainly one) that were clearly supposed to be picked up in a sequel or more, except none was released.
WARNING! Horror and gore.
Will appeal to: Metafiction and retelling enthusiasts. Also people who don't usually like retellings, but enjoy a creative spin on (dark) fable archetypes.

Blurb for Indexing: For most people, the story of their lives is just that: the accumulation of time, encounters, and actions into a cohesive whole. But for an unfortunate few, that day-to-day existence is affected - perhaps infected is a better word - by memetic incursion: where fairy tale narratives become reality, often with disastrous results. That's where the ATI Management Bureau steps in, an organization tasked with protecting the world from fairy tales, even while most of their agents are struggling to keep their own fantastic archetypes from taking over their lives. When you're dealing with storybook narratives in the real world, it doesn't matter if you're Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or the Wicked Queen: no one gets a happily ever after.. (Amazon excerpt)

Blurb for Reflections: The struggle against not-so-charming storybook narratives isn’t the only complicating factor in Henrietta “Henry” Marchen’s life. As part of the ATI Management Bureau team protecting the world from fairy tales gone awry, she’s juggling her unwanted new status as a Snow White, dealing with a potentially dangerous Pied Piper, and wrangling a most troublesome wicked stepsister - along with a budding relationship with Jeff, her teammate. But when a twisted, vicious Cinderella breaks out of prison and wreaks havoc, things go from disenchanted to deadly. And once Henry realizes someone is trying to use her to destroy the world, her story becomes far from over - and this one might not have a happily ever after. (Amazon excerpt) 

Review: As a rule, I don't do series review. I'm a firm believer in the fact that each and every book has its own unique personality. I've only done that a few times for different reasons, and in this case, my reason is that the last installment is five years old already and there aren't new books scheduled (which is a real bummer). Please note: these books were initially released in episodes as Kindle Serials. I'm not even sure that the author had a "proper" book planned at the time, which would explain the lack of an overall narrative arc, at least for (part of) Book 1.


Fables and lore are far darker and deadlier than one might expect after watching a Disney adaptation, or two, or ten - surf the net or hit the library if you don't believe me - and due to their popularity, they might as well take on a life of their own, like tulpas in Supernatural. McGuire takes the dark, deadly core of some of the best-known fairy tales (and even of a few less popular ones) to the next level, and into the real world. In the Indexing universe (the title being a direct reference to the Aarne-Thompson-Uther index of folktale types), these stories try to manifest and reshape reality by latching onto certain people who are born attuned to specific types of narrative - practically, dormant fairy-tale-character embodiments just waiting for their story to become active, all while being none the wiser (well, most of them at least - more about that below). The narrative will stop at nothing to remake the world in its image, and here's where the ATI (Aarne-Thompson Index) Management Bureau comes into play: a "secret" team tasked with preventing fairy tales to wreak havoc and bend reality to fit their mold. A fantastic premise in itself, except in McGuire's hands it gets crazier, deeper and more nuanced than you might ever expect - because, yeah, that's how she rolls πŸ™‚.


While McGuire is a master at dreaming up (OK, often more like, conjuring nightmares about πŸ˜‰) worlds like you've never seen before - or at putting a wild spin on those you have - a huge part of her strength lies in creating characters who transcend the page. Now, in the best tradition of "fight fire with fire" and "it takes a monster to stop a monster", most of the Bureau members are particularly well equipped to deal with deranged fairy tales EXACTLY because they are potential fairy-tale characters, either frozen or in abeyance (or sometimes even activated, yet somehow able to control their urge to play out their narratives...usually). Henrietta, the team's lead, is a Snow White always dancing on the edge of her story in order to save the unaware people falling prey of their own fairy tales (and her assistants sometimes); Sloane is a Wicked Stepsister perpetually battling her killer instincts via a healthy dose of foul-mouthing and occasional insubordination creative case-solving; and so on. They are fascinating characters with fascinating stories (though not all them equally developed - both the stories and the characters), and frankly, when you get one who's able to reject their fairy-tale status to the point of gender transitioning, you know you're in for something special πŸ˜ƒ. 


The only fault I can find in this duology is inherent to the way it came to be, that is, as a series of independently published short stories (that, and the fact that a third volume hasn't been picked up to date and I guess never will - the story is sufficiently contained, but at least one major thread is left open). If you think of Indexing as a "regular" series, composed by "regular" books, there's no denying that neither installment is as cohesive as your average book would be. (Then again, since every story focus on a particular fantastic archetype, the format in itself makes sense). This is especially evident in the first half of Book 1; then we have a story arc that embraces the remaining chapters and resurfaces in Book 2 - along with a second arc that originates inside the first one and then sort of becomes independent of it. If you're able to overlook this small flaw, and you love complex, mesmerising stories dark in nature but full of funny banter/incidents, and both paying homage to and subverting classic fable tropes - with strong characters to boot - this is the series you didn't know you needed in your life πŸ˜‰.

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  1. Her books are hit or miss for me but this does sound kind of wild/fun!

    Karen @For What It's Worth

    1. It is, but it's also more accessible than one would think!

  2. I haven't read McGuire in a while. And ooh what an idea- this Bureau. Reminds me of The Adjustment Bureau- did you ever see that movie?

    "a twisted, vicious Cinderella" Yes please

    The fact that these were short stories sort of shanghaied later into duology form is interesting too- I was just reading about some older classic SF writers who wrote short stories, and the when they got popular they repackaged some of those stories into book form, with varying results. Interesting!

  3. Nope, I haven't seen that movie (I never watch movies LOL), but I heard of it!

    Who are those authors?

    1. A.E. Van Vogt was one of them- he has a famous story called The Voyage of the Space beagle, I guess, that was a mash up of earlier written short stories. I wish I remembered who else they mentioned- I'll have to try and find that post.

    2. That one appears to be a classic! A reviewer on GR says it's made of stories from 1939 to 1950.

  4. That's disappointing that a series you enjoyed so much is sort-of unfinished. I hope McGuire gets inspired and circles back. You never know. Lately, I am seeing so many authors coming back to series many years later

    1. Oh, she's always inspired, according to her twitter. It's just that the publishers have the final word 😒.


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