Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
I’ve been following Seanan McGuire since her first October Daye novel came out several years back. I was impressed with the complexity of her Faerie world and the strong characters that she created. Her second urban fantasy series, the InCryptid novels, debut this month with Discount Armageddon, and readers can expect to see the same level of detail coupled with a laugh-out-loud sense of humor.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night… The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity-and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…”
One of the things that I loved about this novel is the amount of detail that McGuire provides. I was especially excited about all the non-human species (or “cryptids”) that she either created or took from established mythology. There are the well-known ones like dragons, nagas and sirens, but there are also ones that came purely from the author’s imagination. I adored the Aeslin mice, indistinguishable from common mice but possessed of a deep religious fervor. A colony of them lives with Verity and worships her as a goddess. Entry into her apartment is punctuated by little cries of “Hail!” and I couldn’t help but think of the mouse chorus from the movie Babe—just add pigeon bone decorations and body paint, and you’re there.
The level of detail also soars in the creation of the Price family. The book opens with a family tree, charting who married whom and how everyone is related. The kick of it is, not everyone on that list appears in this book, or they only appear very briefly, so I’m pretty sure that there’s a lot to look forward to in subsequent novels. I’d really like to know more about Verity’s grandfather, who got sucked into an alternate dimension, as well as the older women, whose words of wisdom open each chapter.
McGuire’s books always have something that interests me personally, which is one of the reasons that I jump on her books as soon as they come out. For example, both her October Daye series and the Newsflesh trilogy (written under the name Mira Grant) take place in Northern California. The climactic scene of Feed even took place in Sacramento, about a twenty minute drive from where I live. In the InCryptid novels, it’s not the location that caught my attention, but Verity’s choice of life pursuit: she’s a professional ballroom dancer. As someone who has been part of a performance ballroom dance troupe, I ate up the fact that this character was doing something that I love too. And I had to giggle at the following quote: “Self-defense teaches you to kick ass. Ballroom dance teaches you to do it in heels.” Given that a crowded dance floor sometimes reminds me of a combat zone, I agree with this.
This may sound like a lot of disparate elements to juggle, but McGuire manages it and turns in a tightly plotted and action packed story. It’s clear that there’s a lot of things being set up for future novels—the family dynamics, the interplay of the Price family and the Covenant, the relationships between various cryptid races and humans—but this book doesn’t suffer from the normal “first book syndrome” and fail to do more than dump characterization and background on the unsuspecting reader. McGuire is a seasoned author, and it shows in the way she pulls off so much groundwork without sacrificing a good story.
So what does all of this add up to? Fun. Lots and lots of fun. Great characters, great plot, great backstory. I can’t wait for the next one. I wonder if the author can be bribed with chocolate to write faster.
Although I’ve already read thirty books so far year, and although it’s early days yet, I’m pretty confident that Discount Armageddon will be one of the most entertaining pieces of fiction that I encounter, if not the most entertaining. And if anyone discovers Aeslin mice, please call me, because I want to feed them cheese and cake. I just can’t let my cat know about these beasties, because I’m sure she’d use them to conquer the world in the cutest possible fashion. At any rate, this one stays on my “keep” shelf, and I have no doubt that I’ll read this one over again in the future.