Site Refresh

I finally got around to reinstalling WordPress and updating PHP. I’ve reimported all of the previous content; however, some of the formatting is a bit weird. I’ll hopefully fix that soon.

Also, hopefully I’ll get my reading list put back together at some point! I never finished my 2023 reading list and I’m not sure where my 2023 reading ended and my 2024 reading began, but I’ll figure something out.

More soon!

2023 Reading List

Previous years\’ reading lists: 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022

2023 Novels:

2023 Novellas:

  • Lost in the Moment and Found, Seanan McGuire

Non-2023 works read in 2023:

  • Artifact Space, Miles Cameron
  • Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire
  • Illuminations, T. Kingfisher
  • The Raven and the Reindeer, T. Kingfisher
  • Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
  • Down Among the Sticks and Stones, Seanan McGuire
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky, Seanan McGuire
  • In an Absent Dream, Seanan McGuire
  • Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire
  • Across the Green Grass Fields, Seanan McGuire
  • Where the Drowned Girls Go, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Percy Jackson and the Sword of Hades\”, Rick Riordan
  • \”Percy Jackson and the Singer of Apollo\”, Rick Riordan
  • Parasite, Mira Grant
  • Symbiont, Mira Grant
  • Chimera, Mira Grant
  • The Twisted Ones, T. Kingfisher
  • The Hollow Places, T. Kingfisher (in progress)

The Spare Man Drinking List

Mary Robinette Kowal\’s new novel The Spare Man has a cocktail recipe at the beginning of every chapter.  I\’d like to try all the drinks as I read, but my liquor cabinet is not quite as extensive as an actual bar\’s – so I thought I\’d put together a shopping list.  Here\’s what you need to make all the recipes in the chapter headings of The Spare Man:

Alcoholic ingredients

  • ~2.1 oz absinthe
  • 0.75 oz amaretto
  • 2 oz Aperol
  • 1 oz Benedictine
  • 8 oz bourbon
  • 1.1 oz Campari
  • 2.25 Green Chartreuse
  • 2 oz cognac
  • 0.5 oz creme de cassis
  • 0.75 creme de menthe
  • 0.25 creme de violette
  • 1 oz Cynar
  • 1.5 oz Dubonnet
  • 0.5 oz Fernet-Branca
  • 20 oz gin
    • + 1.25 oz Old Tom Gin
  • 0.5 oz Grand Marnier
  • 1 oz cherry Heering
    • Can substitute maraschino liqueur or cherry brandy; add a bit of extra sweetener
  • 1.75 oz Lillet Blanc
  • 1.25 oz maraschino liqueur
  • .5 oz Ramazzotti
  • 2 oz rum
  • 6.25 oz rye
  • 1.5 oz scotch
    • + 1 oz Laphroaig
  • 0.5 oz dry sherry
  • 1 oz Southern Comfort
  • 10 oz sparkling wine
  • 1 oz Tequila Anejo
  • 0.75 oz triple sec
    • + 0.75 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz Bianco vermouth
  • 4.5 oz dry vermouth
  • 12.25 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 2 oz Irish whiskey
  • Cardamom bitters
  • Orange bitters
  • Angostura bitters

Non-alcoholic ingredients

  • 3 oz cranberry juice
  • 1 0z honey syrup
  • 4 oz ginger beer
  • 0.5 oz grenadine
  • 5 oz lemon juice
  • 6.5 oz lime juice
  • 5.75 oz orange juice
  • 4 oz simple syrup
  • 4 oz soda water
  • 2.5 oz sparkling water
  • 6 oz tonic water

Other ingredients

  • Half yellow bell pepper
  • 5 blackberries
  • 7 cherries
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumber
  • Egg white
  • Ice
  • Jalapeno
  • 4-5 lemons
  • 1 lime
  • Fresh mint
  • 3-4 oranges
  • Cayenne salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Salt

Clearly this is not a project for the faint of heart.  I\’m hoping there are some substitutions that can be made so I don\’t end up with six bottles of slightly different Italian bitter aperitifs… More research is definitely needed.

2022 Hugo Nominees: Best Novel

I may tweak a couple rankings before the final ballot is due, but at the moment here\’s my ballot for Best Novel.

1. A Master of Djinn, P. Djèlí Clark

I first encountered Clark\’s \”Dead Djinn Universe\” in The Haunting of Tram Car 015, a finalist for the Best Novella Hugo in 2020, and I was thrilled to return to the world for a longer story.  A Master of Djinn was everything I was hoping it would be and more, giving us a deeper understanding of the djinn\’s place in this alternate Egyptian society, a few tantalizing glimpses into how the return of magic to the world has manifested in other parts of the world, and of course a high-stakes mystery weaving through the mundane and mystical realms.  I\’m really looking forward to reading more in this universe.

2. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers\’s stories are a balm for the soul.  I first discovered her with the first Wayfarers book, and I was deeply sad to learn that The Galaxy and the Ground Within was to be the last one in the series.  Other than that disappointment, though, the novel was another comforting delight, following a small cast of characters trapped at a planetside travelers\’ inn when the local orbital traffic gets shut down due to an accident.  Each of the characters brings their own story, history, and baggage to their accidental cohabitation, and Chambers weaves their arcs together with her usual warmth, portraying once again an aspirational world where people of varied backgrounds can overcome their differences and prejudices and learn to care about one another.  We need more of that in our world.

3. A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine

If the first book in the Teixcalaan series, A Memory Called Empire, hadn\’t already won a Hugo, I\’d likely have this one at the top of my ballot.  It\’s a worthy second entry in the series, broadening the scope of the series out to the edges of Teixcalaan space and further into the depths of intrigue within the imperial capital, the military, and even Lsel Station.  Fans of Ann Leckie will particularly enjoy this series, I think.

4. Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir

This novel takes a few more liberties with science and engineering than Weir\’s debut The Martian did, but fans of that novel are likely to enjoy this one as well.  It starts with a very similar feel – the lone genius solving his way out of dangerous situations with the twin powers of Science and Engineering – but the story soon takes on more depth as Weir weaves in more background and a wider cast of characters.  Overall, a satisfyingly crunchy \”hard sci-fi\” story that balances the \”science\” part with the \”fiction\” part well.

5. Light from Uncommon Stars, Ryka Aoki

This was a really fun read, weaving together a couple wildly different genres/tropes – Faustian bargains for musical talent and alien visitors living on Earth in disguise – into a story of a trans teenager just trying to survive and keep her music alive.  The genre whiplash felt weird at first but over the course of the book Aoki melded the disparate threads well, leading up to a payoff that tied everything together.

6. She Who Became the Sun, Shelley Parker-Chan

Dire and difficult but worthwhile, full of questions about what aspects of our destiny we can shape ourselves, and what is beyond our control to influence.  I don\’t even know if I\’d necessarily say I enjoyed this book – but I definitely believe it deserves a place on the ballot nevertheless.

2022 Reading List

Previous years\’ reading lists: 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021

Asterisked works were read in 2023 but in time to be considered for the 2022 Hugos.

2022 Novels:

  • Spelunking Through Hell, Seanan McGuire
  • The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd
  • Nettle & Bone, T. Kingfisher
  • The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi
  • The Grief of Stones, Katherine Addison
  • Be the Serpent, Seanan McGuire
  • The Spare Man, Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Golden Enclaves, Naomi Novik
  • Station Eternity, Mur Lafferty
  • The World We Make, N.K. Jemisin
  • Nona the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

2022 Novellas:

  • Where the Drowned Girls Go, Seanan McGuire
  • Escape from Yokai Land, Charles Stross
  • Femmes Fatale, Erik Scott de Die and Amanda Cherry

2022 Short Stories:

  • \”Sacrifice Your Tears\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Ghost Lights\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”In Mercy, Rain\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Long Way From Home\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Those Three Girls from Rush\’s Bend\”, Seanan McGuire

2022 YA Stories (Lodestar):

  • Tiger Honor, Yoon Ha Lee
  • Into the Windwracked Wilds, A. Deborah Baker
  • Illuminations, T. Kingfisher*

Non-2022 works read in 2022:

  • Paladin\’s Grace, T. Kingfisher
  • Paladin\’s Strength, T. Kingfisher
  • Paladin\’s Hope, T. Kingfisher
  • The Past Is Red, Catherynne M. Valente
  • Comfort Me With Apples, Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Future is Blue, Catherynne M. Valente
  • Square3, Mira Grant
  • Dead Lies Dreaming, Charles Stross
  • Quantum of Nightmares, Charles Stross
  • Alien: Echo, Mira Grant
  • Peace Talks, Jim Butcher
  • Battle Ground, Jim Butcher
  • (Five and a half years\’ worth of Patreon stories by Seanan McGuire)
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers
  • A Spindle Splintered, Alix Harrow
  • Light from Uncommon Stars, Ryka Aoki
  • A Master of Djinn, P. Djeli Clark
  • Stormsong, C.L. Polk
  • Soulstar, C.L. Polk
  • She Who Became the Sun, Shelly Parker-Chan
  • Fireheart Tiger, Aliette de Bodard
  • \”Bots of the Lost Ark\”, Suzanne Palmer
  • \”Colors of the Immortal Palette\”, Caroline M. Yoachim
  • \”L\’Esprit de L\’Escalier\”, Catherynne Valente
  • \”O2 Arena\”, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
  • \”That Story Isn\’t the Story\”, John Wiswell
  • \”Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.\”, Fran Wilde
  • \”The Sin of America\”, Catherynne Valente
  • \”Proof by Induction\”, José Pablo Iriarte
  • \”Tangles\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather\”, Sarah Pinsker
  • Seasonal Fears, Seanan McGuire
  • Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao
  • The Witness for the Dead, Katherine Addison
  • Artemis, Andy Weir
  • A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab
  • A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab
  • A Conjuring of Light, V.E. Schwab
  • The \”Ruthless Boys of the Zodiac\” series, Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
  • The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means, John Scalzi

2021 Reading List

I\’ll format this more sometime. 2021 works are organized by Hugo category, bolded if I\’m considering them for nomination. (2021 works read in 2022 are marked with an asterisk.)

2021 Novels:

  • Calculated Risks, Seanan McGuire
  • A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine
  • Angel of the Overpass, Seanan McGuire
  • The Dragon Stone Conspiracy, Amanda Cherry
  • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers
  • When Sorrows Come, Seanan McGuire
  • Perhaps the Stars, Ada Palmer
  • The Liar\’s Knot, M.A. Carrick
  • Jade Legacy, Fonda Lee
  • Paladin\’s Hope, T. Kingfisher

2021 Novellas:

  • Fugitive Telemetry, Martha Wells
  • The Past Is Red, Catherynne M. Valente
  • Comfort Me With Apples, Catherynne M. Valente

2021 Young Adult (Lodestar):

  • Along the Saltwise Sea, A. Deborah Baker
  • Tristan Strong Keeps Punching, Kwame Mbalia

Series Eligible for Nomination in 2022:

  • InCryptid, Seanan McGuire
  • Terra Ignota, Ada Palmer
  • The Green Bone Saga, Fonda Lee
  • Tristan Strong, Kwame Mbalia

Non-2021 works:

  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer, Rick Riordan
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor, Rick Riordan
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3: The Ship of the Dead, Rick Riordan
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Speak Easy, Catherynne M. Valente
  • A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik
  • Dying With Her Cheer Pants On, Seanan McGuire
  • Ancestral Night, Elizabeth Bear
  • Machine, Elizabeth Bear
  • Or What You Will, Jo Walton
  • The Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente
  • Wanderers, Chuck Wendig
  • Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer
  • Seven Surrenders, Ada Palmer
  • The Will to Battle, Ada Palmer
  • The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, Olivia Waite
  • The Hidden Oracle, Rick Riordan
  • The Dark Prophecy, Rick Riordan
  • The Burning Maze, Rick Riordan
  • The Tyrant\’s Tomb, Rick Riordan
  • The Tower of Nero, Rick Riordan
  • The Mask of Mirrors, M.A. Carrick
  • Jade City, Fonda Lee
  • Jade War, Fonda Lee

Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

\"CoverGideon Nav is a snarky teenage girl, abandoned as a baby at the Ninth House of necromancy, secluded on a small, dreary planet on the outskirts of the Dominicus star system.  Her possessions are few, but they include a) a passionate and mutual hatred of Harrowhawk Nonagesimus, the Ninth House\’s heir and most skilled necromancer, b) a fervent desire to escape the Ninth House and do something with her life besides be constantly tormented by Harrow, and c) a large sword and the skills (and, as a point of particular pride for Gideon, biceps) to use it well.  A gathering of representatives from the necromantic Houses may give Gideon the chance she\’s been looking for – if she can survive working with Harrow.

The gathering\’s goals are unclear and the rules seem few, and the venue is an ancient ruin filled with locked doors.  The doors conceal secrets and dangers, hinting at the potential to attain vast necromantic power.  Each of the Houses have not only their own style of necromancy but their own secrets to keep as well, and so the assembly of adepts and their cavaliers quickly ignites into intrigue, as the Houses compete and cooperate to try to solve the mysteries to which they have been summoned.

The setting is a brilliant fusion of sci-fi and fantasy, interplanetary travel and research laboratories set against reanimated skeletons and corpse divination, reminiscent of Warhammer 40K or the Craft Sequence.  Gideon herself is an entertaining viewpoint character, sarcastic and sharp-tongued, but clearly out of her depth among the more properly-trained cavaliers of the other Houses; that plus her past gives her both a drive to prove herself and a deep sense of insecurity.  Her and Harrow\’s enmity is tied into their past as well, and their need to figure out how to work together despite their history drives a sympathetic character arc that interacts well with the mystery plot.  The end of the book tees up plot elements for the sequel – Harrow the Ninth, out later this year – but Gideon the Ninth still comes to a satisfying resolution on its own, tying the plot and character arcs together in a tense and exciting climax.

My Hugo Nominees: Best Novel and Best Series

These are the 2019 novels going on my Hugo nominating ballot, as well as my one nomination for Best Series.  Header links go to the books\’ Goodreads pages, to save me the trouble of writing synopses.

Middlegame, Seanan McGuire

I\’ve previously reviewed this one in more detail, but I want to reiterate that this book utterly blew me away.  Middlegame is the best novel yet from one of my favorite authors.  Seanan McGuire deserves a whole pile of awards for this one, with a shiny rocket perched at the top of the stack.

The Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon

This is one of those cases where judging a book by its cover worked out really well for me.  The striking cover art for The Priory of the Orange Tree (illustrated by Ivan Belikov) immediately grabbed my attention, and the novel definitely delivered.  TPotOT fits the epic scope of a multi-book fantasy series into a single (rather large) volume, weaving together multiple satisfying character arcs with a world-saving quest.  History and tradition are a strong theme throughout the book, as the characters are forced to confront the fact that the founding legends of their culture are not as reflective of reality as they\’d always thought.

My one complaint about this book is that it feels a little rushed in places; the events of the book could have easily filled out a trilogy.  Instead, a few of the plot points were resolved somewhat abruptly in order to wrap up the story in 800 pages.  All the same, there\’s something to be said for a standalone novel in a genre that seems to regard three books as the minimum possible length for a complete story arc.

A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine

A murder mystery rife with political and personal intrigue, woven together with some classic but skillfully used SF tropes.  The new ambassador to the empire of Teixcalaan arrives from her small, independent mining colony with a malfunctioning memory implant and a pile of questions about her dead predecessor, and soon gets embroiled in Teixcalaan\’s own internal politics herself.  Martine has a lot to say about the cultural and political mechanisms of hegemony and imperialism, within an empire that at once feels attractively exotic and frighteningly familiar to a modern reader.

The Sol Majestic, Ferrett Steinmetz

Two parts coming-of-age story, one part love letter to foodie culture, one part rumination on philosophy and social justice, and a generous topping of space-station shenanigans.  The Sol Majestic was just a joy to read, with a wide cast of wacky yet deeply sympathetic characters trying to simultaneously save the titular restaurant and get the main character through his increasingly imperiled philosophical rite of passage.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Something about the narrative voice took me a couple chapters to get used to, or maybe it was just the automatic distancing I tend to do when reading about abusive families – but then Casiopea accidentally let the Lord of Xibalba out of her grandfather\’s trap, and I could barely put it down after that.  The author blends Mayan mythology with the turbulence of 1920s Mexico to create a perfect, vivid setting for a tale in which the ancient and the modern clash in multiple different ways.

Best Series: InCryptid by Seanan McGuire

Unusually, I didn\’t read a lot of books in series that are eligible for the Best Series Hugo last year; in most cases, the books that I read were either standalones, in series that hadn\’t met the minimum length, or were ineligible due to having been nominated too recently.  The one exception is InCryptid, one of my favorite series, which has once again become eligible with the publication of Tricks for Free in 2018 and That Ain\’t Witchcraft in 2019.

The series is about the Price family, a group of cryptozoologists serving the cryptid population of North America and defending them from the murderous Covenant of St. George, an anti-cryptid organization the Prices\’ ancestors once belonged to.  The series started off with an urban-fantasy tone, but has grown into something entirely its own, blending folklore monsters with magic, ghost stories, and an abiding love of carnivals.  Much like the October Daye books – McGuire\’s longest-running series, and eligible for the award again next year – the individual novels in the series are a lot of fun to read, but the broader arc of the entire series is really where the work shines.  The saga of the Price family now stretches over at least nine novels (depending on whether you count the Rose books) and a big pile of short fiction; the novels frequently make reference to the family\’s history, which the short stories explore in more detail.  (It\’s fun getting to see some of the things that were referenced in the novels happen \”on screen\”, but none of the stories are required reading for the main series to make sense.)  With each new novel, we get more depth in both the past and present of the series\’ world, and McGuire draws on her love of folklore and her experience in wildlife rescue to create an entire fictional ecology of cryptids for her characters to study, protect, and befriend.

Anyway, I love recommending Seanan McGuire to new people, not only because I adore her work, but also because I can shove a gigantic pile of books she\’s already written at them, and assure them that there will be plenty more where those came from. McGuire publishes a new entry in each of the InCryptid, October Daye, and Wayward Children series every year, and usually at least one other novel besides.  She has also spoken previously about the precautions she takes to make sure her series won\’t get cancelled without an ending; she maintains an exit plan to wrap up each series within the remaining books currently contracted in case the contract for the series is not extended.  Luckily, I don\’t think that\’s going to be an issue any time soon.

2020 Reading List

Everything I\’ve read in 2020.  See 2018\’s list for explanations.

2020 Novels

  • Paladin\’s Grace, T. Kingfisher
  • Imaginary Numbers, Seanan McGuire
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin
  • Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir
  • The Baron of Magister Valley, Steven Brust
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells
  • A Killing Frost, Seanan McGuire
  • The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal*
  • Sixteenth Watch, Myke Cole
  • The Last Emperox, John Scalzi
  • Seven Devils, Laura Lam

 2020 Novellas

  • Finna, Nino Cipri

2020 Novelettes

  • The Alaska Escape, K.B. Spangler

2020 Young Adult Novels

  • A Wizard\’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher
  • Over the Woodward Wall, A. Deborah Baker
  • Tristan Strong Destroys the World, Kwame Mbalia
  • Ikenga, Nnedi Okorafor

2020 Nonfiction/Other

  • The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), Katie Mack
  • Beowulf: A New Translation, Maria Dahvana Headley
  • Hexarchate Stories, Yoon Ha Lee

Non-2020 works read in 2020:

  • Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, Kwame Mbalia
  • The Armored Saint, Myke Cole
  • Queen of Crows, Myke Cole
  • The Killing Light, Myke Cole
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • The Lady\’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Olivia Waite
  • Jade City, Fonda Lee
  • Jade War, Fonda Lee
  • Sandman Slim, Richard Kadrey
  • The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi
  • The Consuming Fire, John Scalzi
  • Stone Mad, Elizabeth Bear
  • Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (review)
  • Magic for Liars, Sarah Gailey
  • The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders
  • The Light Brigade, Kameron Hurley
  • Amberlough, Lara Elena Donnelly
  • Feed, Mira Grant
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow
  • “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, Ted Chiang
  • The Deep, Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P. Djèlí Clark
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers
  • “The Archronology of Love”, Caroline M. Yoachim
  • “Away With the Wolves”, Sarah Gailey
  • “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, Sarah Pinsker
  • Emergency Skin, N.K. Jemisin
  • “For He Can Creep”, Siobhan Carroll
  • “Omphalos”, Ted Chiang
  • “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas
  • “As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang
  • “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon
  • “A Catalog of Storms”, Fran Wilde
  • “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow
  • “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen
  • Deadline, Mira Grant
  • Blackout, Mira Grant
  • Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Sarah Vowell
  • Feedback, Mira Grant
  • Rise, Mira Grant
  • Witchmark, C.L. Polk
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson
  • The Monster Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson
  • The Dragon Stone Conspiracy, Amanda Cherry

Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

\"\"We may be only a third of the way through 2019, but I\’d be surprised if anything manages to surpass Seanan McGuire\’s upcoming novel Middlegame as my favorite book of the year.

McGuire has said that it took her ten years of publishing novels to develop the skills she needed to write Middlegame.  I\’ve been reading her books for most of that time, and looking back I can see how she\’s been building up to this.  She has pulled together the best aspects of her various other series into one cohesive whole.  Middlegame has the intimate, emotional character arcs of her Wayward Children novellas, melded with the tight, edge-of-your-seat plotting of her Mira Grant books and the gradually epic scope of her Toby Daye series, grounded in the love of folklore and children\’s stories that runs through all of her work.

Honestly, if you like her other stories half as much as I do, \”Seanan leveled up\” is probably all you need to hear.  But there are so many things I love about this book, both in how it resonated with me and how well McGuire crafted it.  I\’m going to start by discussing some broad character elements and the first couple chapters (which are available on, but I\’ll put a spoiler warning before I talk about anything past that.

Growing up as a \”gifted kid\”, I connected really strongly with Roger and Dodger\’s childhood experiences.  The alienation from their peers, the strange cocktail of pride and concern from their parents, the incomplete solace of long-distance friendships – all of it felt familiar to me.  (And as someone who can grasp mathematical concepts at an intuitive level, but who finds language to be filled with bewildering and terrifying ambiguities, Dodger in particular is dear to me.  I have very rarely felt so seen.)  The way the characters stumble through building a connection with each other resonated with me, too. McGuire deftly and compassionately portrays their vulnerability and their shared, aching need to be understood – and the defensiveness they sometimes adopt in response.

Middlegame\’s plot is no less compelling than its characters.  One of McGuire\’s strongest skills as an author is grabbing the reader\’s attention right from the first page, and never letting go.  Middlegame starts with \”Book VII: The End\”, containing a single chapter entitled \”Failure\”, taking place \”five minutes too late, thirty seconds from the end of the world\”.  Before we even read the first line of prose, we\’re already feeling both curiosity and tension.

Then the first line is \”There is so much blood\”, in case you had any doubt that this is a Seanan McGuire book.

The first chapter only lasts two pages, but McGuire makes the most of them.  By the end, she\’s already established the plot\’s stakes, given us a brief and tantalizing glimpse of the twin protagonists and their particular talents, and hinted at a few of the story\’s fantastical elements.  Then we rewind – not to \”Book I\”, but \”Book 0\”, over a hundred years prior, where McGuire anchors the other end of her plot with another short chapter, \”Genesis\”.  In both chapters, she has crafted the exposition with precision: she dangles just enough information for us to have all these things to wonder about, but not enough to have a solid idea of what any of it means.  We\’re left with a pile of questions and the promise of answers to come – a promise which the book more than delivers on.

And here\’s where I put a spoiler warning – there\’s one particular element of the story that I want to discuss in a bit more detail, but it goes beyond the first few chapters.


Okay, so it\’s pretty clear early on that the first \”Failure\” chapter is a future that can be avoided.  Roger and Dodger are definitely older in that than they are when we next meet them as young children.  The same chapter recurs a few more times across the book, each time with subtle differences, and we realize that Roger and Dodger are somehow rewinding their timeline in order to avoid that failure, like reloading a save file in a video game to avoid the bad ending.  Despite my default suspicion towards time-travel stories failing to address paradox effectively, I find it a pretty cool plot device when used well – I\’ve also seen it deployed (with a very different feel) in the webcomic Skin Horse, and enjoyed it there too.  In this case, the text of each failure chapter is almost identical, but the small changes from one to the next show us that Roger and Dodger are slowly pushing this event towards a better conclusion.

But that\’s not all McGuire does with the repetition of that scene.  The initial scene left us with a lot of questions, but on every subsequent iteration, we have a little bit more sense of what\’s going on, and we\’re also reminded of the things that we still don\’t understand.  That feeling of grasping something that previously eluded you is gratifying, like stepping back from a puzzle you\’re solving and seeing a new element of the picture come into focus. It\’s one of the many things that I enjoy most about reading science fiction and fantasy, and it\’s one of the many things I loved about this book.  And if you\’re the sort of reader that enjoys rereading stories multiple times to pick up all the little bits of foreshadowing and nuance that you missed your first time through, I think you\’ll find Middlegame to be particularly rewarding in that sense as well.

Middlegame comes out tomorrow, May 7th, 2019.