Indexing by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Indexing is a Kindle Serial, released in installments through an Amazon-exclusive publishing deal that gave us twelve tantalizing installments, spread out throughout six months. The episodes each had to function as a whole story, make the reader eager for the next one, and contribute to the overall plot. It was a tall order, but I think it was one that Seanan McGuire manages, for the most part.
The story is set in a modern equivalent where the last thing you want is a fairy tale ending. In this world, fairy tales can rise up to swallow entire cities. A Sleeping Beauty equivalent might be carrying an airborne plague, a Pied Piper can turn the happy woodland creatures against you, and a Wicked Stepsister might decide to stop fighting against her murderous impulses. The ATI is a secret police force that stops these fairy tales and mitigates the damage they might cause. The index of the title refers to the Aarne-Thompson Index, a classification grouping fairy tales and their elements. Correctly identifying a fairy tale appearance is essential to shutting it down.
Henrietta Marchen (Henry to her colleagues) runs a task force in the ATI, consisting of only one person whose life hasn't been directly touched by what they refer to as incursions. Henry's mother was a Sleeping Beauty, and she, herself, has all the hallmarks of becoming a Snow White. When the story opens, bluebirds are beating themselves to death against her closed window, desperate to bask in her sweetness. In order to keep her story at bay, Henry has to resist everything that tries to draw her in.
Sloane is the most memorable in her team. She had the potential to become a Wicked Stepsister, and only just sidestepped it. Sloane is prickly, snarky, and irreverent. She's also the oldest member of the team, and the only one who's been inside a narrative and lived to tell the tale. Therefore, she's attuned to the narrative, and can easily identify elements.
Demi is the next most memorable, as the confused rookie. One day, she was a college student; the next, she was recruited into the ATI ranks. She's an active Pied Piper, and her skills of persuasion come in handy.
I kept mixing up Jeff and Andy, because they're mostly background. Jeff's role as a former shoe elf makes him super organized, and well equipped to research pertinent details. Andy is untouched by the narrative, though he's seen what it can do. He also seems to be the only one with a social life; he has a husband and the best sense of the mundane parts of the city. He keeps the rest grounded in reality.
Andy isn't the only gay character to appear within the story. Some of the stories are gender-flipped to accommodate a gay central character. There's also a trans* person who serves an important role in the story. I felt his character was handled with dignity, and fleshed out just as well as the central cast. There are also heterosexual relationships and nuclear families, so you know it's not a side effect of the fairy tales leaking over into the "real world."
Most of the episodes are a case apiece, though some end on cliffhangers. Toward the end, there are more and more loose ends at the close of each episode. The ending doesn't wrap them all up neatly, though it does address the major conflicts in a satisfying way. Seanan McGuire has said on record that there are no plans to publish a season two at this time, but that it's up to her publisher. I take that to mean that it depends on the success of season one, which is why I'm pestering everyone I know to pick it up.
It's hard to tell if some of my sense of detachment from this book, in the end, comes because I had to read it in small chunks, or if the story, itself, was disjointed. I know there were several points where I found myself lost by a plot point because I'd forgotten what had happened before. Not that I'd ask for recaps or for frequent narrative hints; they would quickly become repetitive, especially if one were to read the entire story start to finish.
I do think the medium limited this story, and that it would be more enjoyable to read all at once. By the same token, though, I'm interested to see what creativity can come of limits. As an experiment, I would call Indexing a success. I enjoyed the story, the characters, and the world. I hope to read more about Henry, the ATI, and her team.
I am curious, though, how different an experience it would be to read the entire story at once.
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