Review: Middlegame

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stayed up way too late last night reading. Today I took advantage of the fact that it was raining all day long to sit on the couch with a few cups of tea to finish the book. As I finished I recognized that this was both Seanan McGuire’s masterpiece and probably the book most likely to divide her readers. I doubt there’s anyone who feels “meh” about this book. I think it’s one where you love or hate it.

Right away the book seemed to be touching on similar subjects as her Wayward Children series. Not overlapping themes; it’s not Wayward, but for an older audience. But themes that stem from the same inspirational river. Those books are about the real world consequences of portal fantasies, but they are also about decontructing and recontructing the portal fantasy tropes. This book is about the power of narrative and also about alchemy. And in a lot of ways it just kept rhyming with the Wayward Children series. If there’s one place where the two intersect, it’s in the way that those who are supposed to love and care for you most – the parents and other adults in your life and/or your siblings – can consequently be the largest source of heartbreak and betrayal. That sentence both is and isn’t a spoiler – this is a complicated book in more ways than one.

It also shares some plot points with a movie that came out some 20ish years ago and that WOULD be a spoiler and so I don’t want to ruin it because it’s that key to the plot. Once you get it, it’ll become clear which movie I mean, but all I’ll say is that it’s about the cascading effects of choices. (And I guess that could actually be a few movies that came out around them…hmm…) It also directly mentions another movie/book that it parallels. Interestingly, it’s one I had no knowledge of because there are just too many darned movies and books out now and it doesn’t matter if this one was seminal and important to the golden age of SF because there are too many of those too. (And it sparked a discussion with my wife in which we wonder what touchtones the Gen Z and the Gen Alphas will have because culture has fractured into a million pieces and they have Youtube and Netflix and never have to watch a movie on TBS because that’s all that’s available to watch…)

This book also stands perfectly on its own without having to read the the other two that come next in the series. The narrative comes to a conclusive end and you can stop right here and think, “WOW, how does McGuire manage to do this so well?”

One note – I read this book. My wife is a huge fan of McGuire because of the Wayward Children series (and that was my entry point as well). But my wife prefers audiobooks. We haven’t nabbed the audiobook yet, but I fear it will be nearly impossible to keep from getting confused – at least at first. Each chapter starts with quotes and sometimes with a fake story that takes place within this world. In the book it’s clearly delineated as a quote (very indented from each side). I know Amber Benson is talented (from her time as Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I don’t know if she’s talented enough to make this book make sense. The first chapter or two are confusing as all get-out and that’s reading the words on the page. So, if you’re thinking of listening to this book, just know it might be a bit of a challenge until you get the rhythm of what McGuire is doing here.

Anyway, this has been a weirdly written review, but my brain has been thoroughly scrambled by this book – in a good way. If any of you who are my friends/acquaintances/followers here on Goodreads read books on my recommendation – I very much recommend this book. (With the caveat from my first paragraph that this is probably going to be a very divisive book) I look forward to continuing to explore the universes that McGuire creates.

PS – oooh boy is it horrific when you discover what the image on the book’s cover is

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