AUTHOR: Seanan McGuire
Edition: Mass Market paperback
Where I got it: Amazon UK
Right, then. No beating around the bush with this one – the second book in Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series is, in my opinion, possibly one of the most well-written and engaging urban fantasy novels I’ve read – and I’ve read every one of the Dresden Files novels several times over by now. McGuire is, for me, an author who is well within Jim Butcher’s league for this stuff – her October Daye series continues to improve with every new book, and I can already tell that her pattern is holding true with this series as well.
Where the first book, Discount Armageddon, was more of a typical scene-setting introduction to this world and the characters in it, Midnight Blue-Light Special takes us right down to business with the biggest threat any of those characters have faced yet – the Covenant of St. George, longtime enemies of the Healy-Price family ever since a defection from the Covenant’s ranks several generations ago, are coming to New York intent on preparing the city for a purge of its local cryptid population. For those who haven’t read the first book or aren’t aware of the premise here, a “cryptid” is basically a monster or magically gifted creature. Dragons, bogeymen, telepaths, talking mice – they’re all here (and McGuire does a wonderful job of building her world around them, but more on that in a bit), and it’s down to Verity Price, the monster-hunting (and monster-protecting), ballroom-dancing protagonist, to help to keep them safe when the Covenant’s team comes to town. Helping her to do this (she hopes) is Dominic De Luca, the Covenant operative who turned up looking to make a name for himself with his organisation and instead found one nasty surprise after another – all because the “monsters” he came to hunt turned out to be more like ordinary people than he’d been trained to believe. Then there’s his relationship with Verity herself …
So, our leading couple are in quite a mess, and neither one is entirely certain how it’s going to turn out. What’s definitely worth a hat-tip to the author is the fact that, as the story progressed, neither was I. Would Dominic turn his back on the dangerously self-deluding Covenant and step up for the good guys, or stick with what he’s always known and betray Verity and her family? And later, when Verity falls victim to the visiting operatives and is taken prisoner, would our heroine break and endanger not only her own family but the local cryptids relying on her to keep them safe? And for that matter, what would those cryptids in harm’s way do to help themselves?
That question of “will they fight or flee” is what makes a surprisingly pleasing star, in the book’s second half, of one of those supporting cryptid characters. Sarah Zellaby is Verity’s adopted cousin. She’s also a Johrlac – or a cuckoo, to most who are aware of her race – gifted telepaths who may look, sound and act perfectly human, but most definitely are not. They are typically considered to be nothing but dangerously sociopathic, but Sarah is everything that most of her kind are not. She does her best to care about her human family, and has worked long and hard to be more than just another cuckoo to be feared and/or killed on sight. Thanks to a seamless and incredibly welcome POV-change when Verity is kidnapped, we get to experience the aftermath of discovering Verity’s abduction and the plan to take her back from the Covenant from the point of view of the one person in Verity’s inner circle who isn’t a fighter. Sarah isn’t eager for violence, and she hasn’t had survival tactics drilled into her from childhood. Her first instinct, when her telepathic ability first alerts her to the fact that Verity’s been taken, is to panic about it and run to the tougher folks. Her segment of this story shows us, however, just how brave and dedicated she can really be. Moreso when actually saving Verity and getting their entire rescue party out alive falls to her alone. It makes the book’s finale even more tense and ultimately moving than it might otherwise have been, had we never gotten this insight into that “least human” of Verity’s friends. So well-done to the author for giving us this side of things at all, never mind how well she manages the transition between points of view. It’s not always an easy thing to pull off, and so it’s entirely to her credit that McGuire does.
What also continues to please me about these books is how much thought and preparation McGuire has put into bringing her cryptids to life. There is literally an entire field guide dedicated to detailing the cryptids, from their abilities and appearance to their habitats – McGuire even notes their Latin taxonomical classifications. It’s a thoughtful approach that delights my geeky heart, and so even if I thought less of her books than I do, this touch would be appreciated. As it is, it enriches my experience of a series that’s already kicking ass and taking names, and I cannot wait to see what happens next!
Okay, that’s enough fangirl rambling. Read this if you haven’t already, and if you haven’t read the first book, then do it! If you enjoy urban fantasy then the InCryptid series is simply not to be missed.