Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm always nervous when one of my favourite authors comes out with a novel that seems to be very different from anything they've ever done before. In the case of Middlegame, Seanan McGuire has given us a book that is unlike most things I've read before. As usual she stands in a class all her own and screams "look at me"! And while I really enjoyed this unique science fiction, dystopian, magical realism (add other genres here) story; it wasn't up to the 'snuff' I expect from Seanan. It felt a little drawn out and perhaps needed one more round of solid editing to be more concise.
Date, Time & Place
As someone who reads a lot of historical and science fiction I'm familiar with the usual date, time, place information at the beginning of a chapter. Generally I find myself flipping back (or in the case of a book on my eReader cursing) to remember what the last date, time, place I was given was. McGuire solves this issue sooo elegantly. I want this to become a new standard for date, time, place monikers. We get in brackets, at the beginning of (most) chapters, notes about if it's: later the same day, a different day, a few hours later, a month later, years later, etc. Or in the case of some fun time warping a note about how skewed time has become. It may seem like a small this but this little detail was critical to my enjoyment of Middlegame as I wasn't constantly flipping back and forth to orient myself.
More like Mira Grant
For those not familiar with McGuire's work she also publishes horror books under a pseudonym Mira Grant. I wish this was a Seanan McGuire meets Mira Grant novel. There are moments during it when the depth, detail and goriness (to be frank) of Grant's books would have been better suited here. Now you may think to yourself; they are the same person! But I honestly believe that a good writer (and McGuire is amazing) puts on a different 'hat' to write in certain genres or under different names. What I wanted here was a little more Grant with my McGuire. While Middlegame feels more like a Blake Crouch book than anything else I can think of in recent years; it still has the strong relationships and magical allure of most of McGuire's writing.
Our Hand of Glory is described as a melting gruesome thing and so I have to say my second disappointment with the gore factor in Middlegame was the very underwhelming cover. Where's the melting? Where's the burning flesh? Where's the horror that the hand used to belong to a real person?
Mixing Religion, Magic, Science & Alchemy
A really good science fiction or fantasy book (in my mind) will take different aspects of real-life knowledge and blend them with ones you might not expect. While the study of alchemy has long been the disproved sibling of science; there is no doubt that they have roots that come from the same place. McGuire takes the alchemy concepts, today's science and mixes it all around. Adding a healthy dose of religion, superstition and magic into the pot. By the time you come out of Middlegame you won't be sure what might have been rooted in science or math and what wasn't. I liked this treatment of the technical aspects of this book as it left more up to the imagination and it didn't let doubts seep in the way a book that is very science based might have. A clever way to deal with a magical realism story that people can believe and connect with.
Lost in Time & Space
There are few writers that can twist a timeline around on a reader and keep their attention and the order of events in order. Some of those writers include Blake Crouch, Stephen King, Brandon Sanderson and (now) Seanan McGuire. The veteran writing style and touch of McGuire kept me not only entertained; but also oriented in the every fluctuating timeline of Middlegame. This is not a single timeline story and part of it's allure and magic is that time twists around in places and creates opportunities for things to happen in a magical way.
Why Four Stars?
By now you may be wondering why I only gave this four stars. There are points during the story where the plot is bogged down by mini-info dumps. The first time it happens I figured McGuire was just ensuring we caught some nuances. But by the last 100 pages there were STILL large amounts of text that just explained away happenings. Certainly for the average writer this would be expected; but McGuire is anything but an average novelist. So it was disappointing to see a poorly used tactic come out of the writing on more than one occasion. Additionally I found that at times the dialogue between characters was a bit stilted and ridiculous. As though it was only there to ensure the reader that our characters were still pinged into the intricacies of the story.
I think Middlegame might have benefited from more smooth proofing or an editor that would recommend cuts in some of the denser parts of the novel. If you have enjoyed Mira Grant before then definitely read this. If you're more into the Heart of the Doorway or the Incryptid series this may be a little too complex to your taste. Although, ironically, if all these books existed in one multiverse it could potentially explain a lot of things. And maybe they do all exist in the same place and time; without every encompassing the same time and place. Middlegame will keep your brain moving, engaged and a good dose of McGuire's imagination at it's best.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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