July 21, 2022

Seanan McGuire: "Seasonal Fears"

Title: Seasonal Fears [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Alchemical Journeys (2nd of 4 books)
Author: Seanan McGuire [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural
Year: 2022
Age: 16+ (the characters are in the teen age range, but the series as a whole is geared to mature teens/adults for content and complexity)
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Fascinating concept (with a twist). Rich mythology. Characters you can root for.
Cons: Far too much exposition (counterintuitively though, the magic system takes a while to sink in). Some anticlimactic moments. A continuity error.
WARNING! Blood and gore. Violence. Suicide idealisation.
Will appeal to: Those who love a (bloody) twist on the soul-mates trope. 

Blurb: The king of winter and the queen of summer are dead. The fight for their crowns begins!
Melanie has a destiny, though it isn’t the one everyone assumes it to be. She’s delicate; she’s fragile; she’s dying. Now, truly, is the winter of her soul.
Harry doesn’t want to believe in destiny, because that means accepting the loss of the one person who gives his life meaning, who brings summer to his world. So, when a new road is laid out in front of them - a road that will lead through untold dangers toward a possible lifetime together - walking down it seems to be the only option.
But others are following behind, with violence in their hearts.
It looks like Destiny has a plan for them, after all… (Amazon)

Review: As much as I loved Middlegame, this sidequel (not a real sequel, just a story set in the same universe, though it follows the events recounted in the first book and brings us up to speed with its protagonists) missed the mark for me somehow. I would still have rated it 4 stars, if not for a continuity error - more of that below. Brace for the long-ass review...
(P.S.: don't you love it when a book cover finally matches your blog aesthetic? πŸ˜… OK, it's my second McGuire that does that, the first being Dying with Her Cheer Pants On...).

MELTING POT

Seasonal Fears apparently leaves the alchemical world of Middlegame behind in order to embrace a classic supernatural/urban fantasy premise: while in the first book entities like Language and Math got alchemically embodied in artificially assembled hosts (in order for the alchemist to attain world domination...but it turned out that the hosts had different plans), in this case the seasons - namely, Winter and Summer, the most powerful ones - become manifest as well, but naturally, and by inhabiting human vessels. The trick is, every time the Winter and Summer crowns get to change hands, there are multiple viable candidates, who have to engage in a deadly competition (to be precise, they're already dead at that point - only animated by the tendril of their season that lives inside every one of them - and if they fail to secure the crown, their connection to it is severed, causing them to wither and die for good). Now, you might ask, how does this book belong in a series called Alchemical Journeys? THAT I won't tell you, because it's one of the reveals (though it comes pretty early in the story), but rest assured, it does. Leave it to McGuire to build a world where (pseudo)science and magic meet and thrive, providing a twist on familiar tropes and ultimately spinning a (mainly) original tale. [...]

WAR OF THE WORDS

Seasonal Fears follow two candidates to the Winter and Summer crown - Mel and Harry - while they learn about their predicament and its rules, and what it will cost them if they don't win. The two have been sweethearts since they were seven (you could say they're soul mates...or more like, season mates in this case πŸ˜‚), and aware that their time together was limited because Mel had a bad heart. The crown trial is a game changer for them, and their lives (or...unlives, at one point) get upended in ways they could never have fathomed. Add a road trip from hell and a few unexpected allies - and enemies - to the mix (plus a handful of familiar faces from Book 1, though they're very new for our lovebirds), and you get the recipe for a book that should move at a frantic pace and entertain the hell out of you. Except...
...OK, I'll admit that one of the reasons why I didn't like SF as much as Middlegame was the romance at its core - and mind you, Mel and Harry have potential, and ARE likeable, even when they do unspeakable things in order to survive. (Also, I love a tug-of-war between retaining your humanity and giving in to the force - for lack of a better word - that inhabits your body). Anyhow, I did know this would be (also) a romance when going into it - and regardless, that's on me, not on the story. But it's a fact that the amount of exposition here is ridiculous - roughly 40% of the book consists of our couple's getting schooled in the magic system to death, and yeah, it's a complex one, but there's no reason at all for the same things to be explained over and over again in more details or with different turns of phrase. OK, the ally who does the explaining isn't "tuned in" with Harry - she's Mel's servant - and the whole situation is overwhelming for the kids, but it sounds more like McGuire doesn't trust her readers to "get it" and circles around the same information just to make sure they do - or reveals bits of it at a time for "reasons". Honestly, this book could have been 100 pages shorter and turn out all the better for it.

DOWN TO SIZE

I can't say I disliked the story or the characters - as a matter of fact, they kept me entertained (sometimes with funny interludes/exchanges, most often with blood and drama). I did like the twists on the trope that McGuire provided. But from her (and especially from a Middlegame sidequel) I expected so much more. The book builds and builds towards a supposed climax that ends up being underwhelming - not to mention, we only see Harry's side of things when it comes. Mel does seem to regain agency later, except ultimately it's up to Harry to save the day (and yeah, there's a reason for that, but even then...the situation could have been played differently. McGuire doesn't usually shy from making her heroines face hard choices and take matters into their own hands, whatever the cost). The powerful, amoral villain sort of...deflates. Also, I personally didn't notice a certain continuity error about the Season affiliations (maybe because I was reading so fast, but still...ouch me. It WAS pretty glaring. I did notice a couple of typos/missing words though), except I read not one, but two Goodreads reviews pointing it out (read Jaclyn's review here | read KindOfUnfunnyStories' review here) - and there can be more, I don't know. Anyhow, I ultimately decided to detract another half star because of that (OK, it technically didn't bug me this time around because I didn't notice, but I would probably have picked up on it in a reread, and regardless of my lack of attention, it was HUGE).

HELLO, OLD FRIENDS

This is hardly a spoiler, since it's been advertised for months, but the small group of Middlegame survivors makes an apparition (well, more than one) in Seasonal Fears. I was especially excited to get a glimpse of Roger and Dodger's new life, but I have to admit that I got disappointed at first, because apparently they underwent a rather massive transformation - and yes, I realised that it was unavoidable, but still. (They even acknowledge it, or better, Roger does). Anyhow, I ultimately made peace with that and enjoyed their cameos, though I no longer think that "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" (from my Middlegame review). I also appreciated getting closure about their *gestures vaguely* um, situation? And I kind of want a house like theirs now πŸ˜‚.

For my "Middlegame" review (first installment in the series) click here.
For more Adult books click here.
For more Supernatural books click here.

20 comments:

  1. It sounds very interesting. :) I like the concept of seasons fighting against each other.
    I really enjoyed reading your review,
    -Quinley

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    Replies
    1. It's an interesting concept for sure. And thank you!

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  2. It DOES uncannily match! :)

    You know, leave it to her to come up with a premise like this. I mean, uniqueness? Too bad it was a little disappointing though. I'm a little surprised at the error in continuity as well- I wonder if McGuire realizes it/ caught it beforehand- even authors have blind spots I guess. Anyways- it sounds like there was enough here that you still enjoyed it, which is good. Definitely unique.

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    Replies
    1. Unique, yes. I was a bit bummed because I loved Middlegame so much - but still.

      I keep seeing typos and errors in traditionally published books these days. It didn't use to be this way a few years ago - and keep in mind English isn't even my first language...

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    2. I agree. I see more errors too. I mentioned somewhere else- maybe Karen's blog, somebody's... that we constantly hear about how tough it is to get published, competitive industry, and then... editing sure seems to be a lost art. :) I mean, I'm generalizing, but nevertheless...

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    3. Every time I get an ARC I see glaring errors...which shocks me, because sure authors (most of which do write in a lovely prose) should be able to see the difference between "it's" and "its" or whatnot? and what about "lie of the land" instead of "lay" or "ear peace" instead of "piece"? (I found them in a recent one). And even if they're ARCs, I wonder how editors weren't able to see such things and fix them before the book got sent around...But of course, the worst thing are PUBLISHED books where even someone for whom English is an acquired language can find errors or typos. And no, you're not generalising, because they seem to be the majority now...

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    4. "ear peace" Wow. Seriously though- I completely agree. Don't these things go through rounds of revisions/ proofreading/ edits?

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  3. I'm definitely going to read this at some point. I've seen quite a range of reviews so I'm curious to see where I land. And I didn't not know it was going to be a four book series!

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    Replies
    1. Middlegame wasn't advertised as first in a series back in the day. I suppose the publisher was waiting to see how good the sales would be...

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  4. I have never seen you use the word "underwhelming" as much as you did today, and it's shocking to see if for a McGuire book. Sorry the execution was off here because the premise sounds promising.

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    Replies
    1. Haha, right? But the fact is, I might be a tad less lenient with her exactly because I love her so much and I know what she can do...

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  5. Gracias por la reseΓ±a. No es mi tipo de libro lo dejo pasar. Te mando un beso. Enamorada de las letras

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    Replies
    1. Hi! Thanks for visiting! I took two years of Spanish at uni, but I'm afraid I forgot most of it, though I'm still able to understand the gist.

      Delete
  6. I do like Mcguire, but I have not read this one

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    1. There are so many of her books around...one can never keep up to date πŸ˜‚.

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  7. This sounds like a really interesting book. I think I'd like it based on what you've said about it. :D

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  8. Sorry to hear you were a little disappointed with this one. I've noticed a few grammar mistakes recently in books but I mostly just ignore them.

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    Replies
    1. It's tough though! Books should be polished...we're not even talking about indie books here...

      Delete

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