Half Off Ragnaork – Seanan McGuire
Seanan McGuire’s Incryptid series might be described as the lighter side of her Urban Fantasy universe – not that it lacks any drama and/or brushes with mortal danger for her characters, but it does so in a far lighter vein than I’m used to in her highly successful October Daye series. And that makes for a fun, relaxing reading.
Coming back to these books is like sitting comfortably down in my favorite armchair, even though there are times when the sitting happens on the very edge of that chair. When I learned about the change in perspective for this book, with the focus switch from Verity (the protagonist of the first two) to her older brother Alex, I was somewhat dubious, having enjoyed Verity’s spunk and humor-laced adventures very much.
Well, my doubts were unfounded: this story is just as entertaining and interesting as the previous ones and there is enough “transitional material”, including a cameo appearance from Verity, to make the crossing as painless as possible. Alex is a totally different personality: he’s more a quiet and dedicated science type – complete with proverbial glasses – and his exploits less physical than his sister’s, yet we can nonetheless see him as a productive and pro-active member of the Price family. His choice of pet (a griffin) and the inevitable colony of Aeslin mice – my very favorite cryptid ever – go a long way in defining his character and telling us through interaction what kind of a person he is.
The main focus of interest in this series are indeed the cryptdis – the kind of creatures that would otherwise be labeled as monsters: the fresh approach chosen by McGuire is to show these creatures’ perspective and point of view, not so much humanizing them but rather helping the readers see the world through their eyes. Their motivations, their strife for survival, and ultimately the sympathy elicited in the reader (unless we’re dealing with really dangerous critters, that is) help to drive across the most important point of these stories: that once we understand what makes the other tick, we can see him/her/it in a different way. And embrace the difference.
The Gorgon colony described in depth in this book is one such example, even though the pride of place goes to Alex’s family – not a family created by blood ties, but rather by ones of love: Alex lives with his grandparents – a humanoid telepathic predator and a patched-up zombie – and his cousin Sarah (one of the supporting characters from previous books), a telepath like the grandmother. Plus the griffin and the funny, adorable, witty Aeslin mice (yes, I’m somewhat partial to them…). The love, loyalty and mutual support of these different creatures teaches a lesson that needs no further explanations about embracing our differences, because the teaching is done through example.
My only point of contention with Half Off Ragnarok comes from Shelby, Alex’s adventure partner, and the interaction between the two of them. First, I don’t get a strong “couple vibe” from them: yes, they pursue similar interests, face dangers and are attracted to each other despite the difficulties created by their chosen profession. Yet I don’t perceive any real attraction, any magnetic pull drawing them together, not in the same way as the polar opposites that were Verity and Dominic in the previous books.
And then there is Shelby herself: I’m used to McGuire’s heroines being strong, determined and self-sufficient and while Shelby does possess those qualities they are quite subdued, so much that she seems more Alex’s subordinate rather than his equal and ultimately she needs rescuing more than once. True, not all female protagonists need to exercise their kickassery all the time, but still all McGuire’s characters have been true to that standard, so that I’m somewhat puzzled by Shelby’s presentation.
Nonetheless I’ll hold any further judgment until next book, because I trust this author to always deliver on her promises. And as long as there will be Aeslin mice and their deceptively funny wisdom, I will be happy.
My Rating: 7.5/10