Saturday, April 13, 2013

Seanan McGuire "Midnight Blue-Light Special" (DAW, 2013)

In case you haven’t been reading McGuire’s InCryptid series, here’s what you need to know so far:  A cryptid is a creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven.  This would include mythological stories about dragons and gorgons as well as more modern stories about Bigfoot or chupacabras.  The Covenant of St George is an ancient society dedicated to the extermination of all cryptids.  A few generations ago the Price family came to America and left the Covenant. The Prices think that humans and cryptids can live together peacefully.  And the Covenant thinks they’re all dead. 

Midnight Blue-Light Special focuses on Verity Price, the young Price daughter living in NYC in order to follow her dreams of being a ballroom dancer.  She learns that the Covenant is sending a team to New York.  Their report could lead to the Covenant exterminating all the cryptids in the city.  And things will just get worse if they learn that the Prices are still alive.

On a surface level, the InCryptid series is like most urban fantasy series.  There’s a young female protagonist, who is beautiful and a badass.  The story is told in first person, with a quippy narrative voice.  The heroine has friends and allies who are members of exotic nonhuman species.  The reading experience is fairly light and breezy.

That being said, McGuire has a secret weapon that separates the InCryptid books from the plethora of urban fantasies lining the shelves everywhere these days.  That weapon is her world building.  First, she ignores the popular nonhumans.  There are no vampires or werewolves to be found in these books.  Instead, Verity Price’s New York is populated with dragons, gorgons, boogeymen, and a wide variety of idiosyncratic species from all over the world.  Second, each of these species seems to have their own elaborate social and biological histories, and best yet – we get to see how these histories influence the behaviors of the characters.  So members of predatory species act like predators.  Those who would be prey act more like creatures who have a history of being hunted.  This sort of world building gives an underlying structure to the series, and makes it stronger than some simple sort of wish fulfillment.

I did have a couple of problems with the book.  First, at times McGuire is a bit too prone to infodumps.  You get the feeling that she’s created all this cool backstory, and at times just can’t resist telling the reader about it.  Now I really appreciate the work and world building involved, but it’s better to let that come out in characterization and action, not in characters directly telling each other these things.

Second, the agents from the Covenant were a bit too inept.  After more than a book of building up the Covenant as an incredibly powerful antagonist, these agents really didn’t cause too much of a problem for Verity or the cryptids of New York.  If the members of the Covenant had caused a bit more havoc in New York then it would have increased the tension substantially.

Midnight Blue-Light Special is a thoroughly entertaining read.  Its detailed world building creates a fantasy world that it rich in depth and detail.  The InCryptid series is one of the best in modern urban fantasy.

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