Saturday, February 25, 2012
Advance review: Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
That said, I loved it. I have refrained in the past from declaring any authors my favorite, because it depends on my mood, or what they've recently published, or what I feel like reading. With this book, though, Seanan McGuire cements herself as my favorite author.
In Discount Armageddon, the first of the InCryptid books, we meet Verity Price, the latest of a line of cryptozoologists who split from the Covenant of St. George several generations ago because they realized not all supernatural creatures deserved to be wiped out. Verity has come to New York City to pursue her dream of professional ballroom dancing, before her life as a cryptozoologist takes over. She balances her duties as a Price, her job as a cocktail waitress, and her dancing career on a knife's edge. Luckily, the skill sets have a fair amount of overlap. Verity argued her case for pursuing ballroom dance successfully because it uses the same muscle groups as fighting, running across rooftops, and crawling into critters' lairs. Verity is part Buffy, part Ripley, and all McGuire.
Verity meets Dominic De Luca, a sole member of the Covenant of St. George, who's there to see if the city needs purging of its supernatural element. She assumes, logically enough, that the series of disappearances of cryptids following their meeting is his doing, but, when he tracks her down again, he asks her where they've gone. They declare a truce to get to the bottom of the disappearances.
While the Covenant is a worthy opponent, and clearly has many resources at its disposal for wiping out cryptids, Dominic is a person. He's a person deeply indoctrinated into the beliefs of the Covenant, but it becomes clear, to both Verity and the reader, that his arrogance and certainty the Covenant's way is the only way comes from the fact that he's been sheltered from reality his entire life. One of my favorite early interactions is when Verity discovers he has no idea what Thin Mints are. Dominic's characterization is helped very much by the fact that he's clearly in over his head. Having him off-balance throughout most of the book lets his humanity shine through.
Discount Armageddon is the lightest of Seanan McGuire's books, but that's not to say it's fluffy. The fate of the world is at stake, or at least that of New York City, and the action and humor are balanced quite well. While I was reading the ending, I alternated between chewing my lip nervously and laughing so loud I was worried I'd wake my husband.
My favorite cryptid, and I doubt I'll be alone in this, is the Aeslin mice. They're wired to treat everyday things and events with fanatic worship, including Verity herself. Their antics could've gotten annoying if they'd driven the narrative or played a larger role, but Verity has as little patience for them as I would, if I had to live with them. They're adorable and excitable and a wonderful humorous touch.
The world-building in Discount Armageddon is solid. I haven't wanted to climb into a book this badly since I read The Neverending Story in sixth grade. We're given hints of Verity's crazy family and the things they're going through, the cryptids she runs into have their own lives and associated problems, and Verity mentions several back-burner conflicts she doesn't have to deal with right now. There's a lot more going on in the world than what happens within the narrative. The ARC (and hopefully the paperback edition) includes a family tree and an abbreviated version of the field guide, which Ms. McGuire has helpfully expanded with pictures on her website.
This being Seanan McGuire, there are strong female characters aplenty. Verity makes a flippant remark that her family breeds for women like her, but there isn't a simpering victim in the lot. Her grandmother, Alice Healy-Price, spends most of her time in various dimensions of hell, and comes home only to stock up on grenades. Her mother and sister spend most of the narrative hunting basilisks. Verity's upbringing itself is a lesson in survival and adaptation. The strength of female characters isn't limited to the Price family, either. Her co-workers are an object lesson in why not to judge a woman by her clothes. (The work uniform is skimpy; the women wearing it are scary.)
My only complaint in this book stems from the start of the love story. While I like the love interest, the initial actions that get them together seemed forced, and the second event felt like it was pulled straight out of a sappy romcom. I forgave the initial rocky start, because without those two things, the relationship might never have gotten off the ground in the first place, and it is handled well from then on out. I would've liked more of Verity's thought process behind the first kiss, is all.
Discount Armageddon comes out on March 6th, and I would strongly recommend picking up a copy from your local independent bookstore. If you like urban fantasy, if you like snarky humor and snappy comebacks, if you've watched and liked a single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I think you would enjoy this book. That's not to say that Seanan McGuire is copying Joss Whedon. Far from it. Verity is the next generation of Buffy, an evolution that I can't wait to spend more time with in future books.
Added 2/28/12: I am giving away five copies of this book. See this post for details.