Contemporary fantasy is one of the fastest growing genres within speculative fiction today. Urban fantasy, in particular, has seen an increase in sheer numbers of authors and stories, to the point where some ideas have been recycled so much that various incarnations are either too similar to fully enjoy or have become stale.
Don’t take this to mean I dislike urban fantasy; nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if you look at a genre breakdown of my reading material, you would find that the majority falls within the urban fantasy genre. I am always looking for that next interesting or unique twist, but with the sheer amount of urban fantasy material out there, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find these twists. However, there are some authors who always manage to bring something new to the table. Seanan McGuire is one such author.
Already well-known for her Toby Daye novels as well as her Newsflesh trilogy (written as Mira Grant), Seanan McGuire is hitting the shelves on March 6, 2012 with a new urban fantasy series: the InCryptid novels. I wasn’t sure what I was going to discover in Discount Armageddon when I began reading, but, as is often the case with McGuire’s work, I found a novel unlike most anything else I’ve ever read.
Monsters, microminis, and… ballroom dancing?
While it might seem that someone reached into a hat and pulled out these three things, they are truly related. The common thread tying them all together is Verity Price, cryptozoologist and ballroom dancer.
Verity is quite the girl—and is now my most favorite of McGuire’s protagonists. Looks, moves, brains, snarks—this girl has it all. Her sense of humor is dry, witty, and correlates very well to my own. I mean, hell, when your protagonist talks about the borderline impossibility of hiding a gun holster under a micromini within the first five pages of the book? I’m sold. The fact that she wants to focus on the arts as her career only cemented Verity as my favorite of McGuire’s protagonists.
Despite having been trained since a very early age as a cryptozoologist to study and protect the monsters of the world, Verity would much rather dance a tango than tussle with monsters. While spending a year in Manhattan pursuing a career in ballroom dancing, Verity suddenly becomes aware of the disappearance of local cryptids. And of strange lizard-men appearing in the sewers. And of rumors of a dragon beneath the city. Subsequently, Verity is sucked back into the family business when she would rather just dance.
“Cryptid, noun: Any creature whose existence has not yet been proven by science. See also ‘monster.'”
As previously stated, urban fantasy is one of the fastest-growing subgenres today. However, Discount Armageddon has a fantasy system that is completely different from any other urban fantasy that I’ve yet read. There is no magic. Let me say that again: There is no magic. The main character isn’t a gunslinger wizard or a shapeshifter, and they don’t battle demons or other practitioners of magic. Sure, there are fantastical creatures with fantastic abilities, but those don’t count.
In fact, those creatures—cryptids—are a large part of what sets this novel apart from the rest of the urban fantasy genre. They’re not something otherworldly; they’re just part of the world, like humanity. And, like humanity, their traits vary. Rich, poor, conniving, caring, ditzy, skeptical—these cryptids are just like humanity in regard to emotions and mental states. With the added complication of generally being hunted and persecuted.
The sheer variety of cryptids within Discount Armageddon fill out the world McGuire is presenting, and do it well. It is one thing to have a history for the world and the main characters, but McGuire takes it one step further and builds a history for every single species of cryptic—and in some cases, individual cryptids. Some of those histories are just downright fun and entertaining. I’m speaking of Verity’s resident clan of Aeslin mice at this point, which function as a sort of comic relief—and they do it oh-so-very-well. (As a side note, McGuire has included a few pages of information on various cryptids at the back of the book, so be sure to check it out.)
“Cryptozoologist, noun: Any person who thinks hunting for cryptids is a good idea. See also ‘idiot.'”
While Verity Price’s family are all cryptozoologists, they are by no means the only ones out there. Enter the Covenant of St. George, old enemies of the Price family. While Verity is out trying to find the disappearing cryptids, and continuing her dancing career not-so-much on the side, the Covenant dispatches their own operative, Dominic De Luca, to the area. Let’s just say that the Covenant have conflicting opinions with the Price family regarding the treatment of cryptids—the take-no-quarter kind of opinion. Neither Verity or Dominic is prepared to deal with the other, and that leads to all sorts of fun places.
Where Verity is an open-minded sort, Dominic holds his opinions, and holds them close. Where Verity’s primary form of transportation is free running (she hates taxis), Dominic will take any sort of transportation that doesn’t involve him expending effort. Where Dominic wants to hunt and take all cryptids down, Verity wants to protect them. They are extremely different people—well, except for being pretty damn sexy. And good dancers.
In fact, the setup as different people from competing organizations might be ringing a familiar bell right about now. It’s a very Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story sort of setup, but that’s about the extent of it. Verity and Dominic don’t fall in love at first sight and try to stick it to the man and elope. Not at all. Rather, their personalities continue to clash, even in the face of common objectives, and this makes for some very entertaining dialogue and scenes.
Hit me with your best plot
While the plot of Discount Armageddon may not be as complicated as that of McGuire’s Newsflesh trilogy, I believe it to be one of the most streamlined she has ever written. By streamlined, I mean that it flows exceptionally well, with all of the unexpected twists and turns being surprising but not jarring. It’s a very well-developed storyline that functions as a well-oiled machine. Not only that, but it leaves enough unresolved questions that I really, really want the next book. Now. I do believe this is the most excited I’ve ever been at the thought of a sequel to one of McGuire’s books—and for me, that’s saying something.
So, why should you read this book?
Because I told you to, dangit! All joking aside, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and not just for the fun factor. Discount Armageddon is an exceptionally well-written tale with a unique premise, fantastic character work, and a plot that just pulls you along until you finish. This is one for the urban fantasy enthusiasts out there—as well as for anyone who wants something different from most anything else on shelves today. Easily one of my favorite books of 2012, Discount Armageddon has re-solidified my opinion that I will buy ALL THE THINGS McGuire writes, ever.
Garrett received an ARC of Discount Armageddon courtesy of DAW Books.