When someone asks me to recommend an urban fantasy to them, there are a couple of authors that automatically spring to mind.
Seanan McGuire is one of them.
For those of you who’ve been around here for awhile, it’s been pretty abundantly clear from my reviews of McGuire’s Toby Daye novels that I adore her writing. And how that particular series is one of my most favorite urban fantasy series ever.
So when I say that Midnight Blue-Light Special may have made me a bigger fan of the InCryptid novels than the Toby Daye ones, I want you to be aware of just how big that is.
Midnight Blue-Light Special sees a return to the life of one Verity Price, cryptozoologist and sometime-professional ballroom dancer. Following the events of Discount Armageddon, Verity has kept at her job of trying to keep the native cryptid populations of Manhattan from getting into trouble. However, when her on-again, off-again boyfriend Dominic De Luca warns her that the Covenant of St. George (of which he is an operative) is sending a full strike team to Manhattan to assess its readiness for a purge, Verity suddenly finds herself between a rock and a hard place.
One of the aspects of Discount Armageddon that caught and held my attention in rapture was the seeming lack of magic within the world and the focus instead on the creatures that inhabit the world. With Midnight Blue-Light Special, my analysis of the world presented in the first book may have been incorrect. While magic isn’t exactly widespread throughout the world, it still has a presence. But the focus remains on the cyptids themselves, and slight bits of magic only appear every now and again—which still makes the series stand out from most other urban fantasies on the market.
Now, you may be thinking, “But Garrett, there are plenty of series where the creatures and not the magic are the primary focus.” And you’d be absolutely correct.
However, none of those series have the sheer amount of variety of monsters as the InCryptid novels. Three species of Gorgon. Aeslin mice. Dragons. Waheela. Madhura. (I hadn’t even /heard/ of those last two before reading these books.) The variety is due in part, I suspect, to the venue of Manhattan, considering that it’s one of the largest melting pots of cultures in the world. Which is just good, solid worldbuilding. And McGuire presents new cryptids to the reader in such a way as they get introduced as they become relevant to the story—which is how it should be, instead of simply rattling off a list of the monsters present at the beginning of the novel. It’s something a less-experienced author might not have done.
“Join the family business”
One of my favorite aspects of this series lies at the beginning of each chapter, where McGuire inserts a snippet of a quote from a Price family member. Like the following, “Well that’s not something you see everyday. Go tell your father that Grandma needs the grenades.” It’s a very slick way to build the abstract character of the family-at-large, which also piques the reader’s curiosity. In Discount Armageddon, it was enough to be entertaining and leave you wondering. Midnight Blue-Light Special sees some details of the family history being deftly woven into the story itself. The quotes set the framework, and then the narrative from Verity fills in some of the empty spaces. Again with the masterful craftsmanship of just enough to appease the reader yet keep them wanting more.
Lives on the edge
In (good) musical theatre, there are three levels of drama. Level one begins with spoken dialogue. When the emotional tension becomes too great to be contained by spoken word, you sing. When the tension becomes too great to be contained by simple singing, you dance. Considering that Verity is a ballroom dancer and the choreographer for a nigh-burlesque club run by a boogeyman, I feel the comparison is apt. For the majority of the novel, there is a solid progression of the tension from the speaking to the singing levels. Then we hit the 2/3 mark, and it’s high-energy dance break from there to the end of book. While in another book such an extended sense of climax might be a bit much, in Midnight Blue-Light Special, it’s a breath-stopping rush that leaves you ramped up on adrenaline even after you’ve finished reading.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding and plot pacing, my favorite aspect of this book lies on a smaller, more personal and intimate level. Verity and Dominic have had a bit of a tenuous relationship, largely due to the nature of who they are and their upbringing (it was very Romeo and Juliet in Discount Armageddon—though considering the location, West Side Story might be slightly more appropriate). Because Verity’s family has been at odds with the Covenant of St. George for years, and Dominic is still affiliated with them—though his eyes have been opened to the truth—it creates a lot of tension within Verity’s mind, and she often struggles with how she feels about him on a personal level versus her questions about where his loyalties lie. Maybe it’s because I’d recently been through a similar sort of relationship when I first read this novel, but the internal struggle that Verity wages resonated with me. It’s a very accurate reflection of human nature within a fantastic setting, and so adds the layers the story needs to feel completely realistic.
Why should you read this book?
As with its predecessor, Midnight Blue-Light Special is a book largely unlike anything else currently on the market. A lighter and fluffier fare than the Toby Daye novels, this series should appeal to fans of the lighter and bouncier tone of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles. Featuring McGuire’s signature brand of slick worldbuilding, an exceptionally relatable protagonist, and a story that leaves you teetering on an emotional edge, it’s a fun romp of a book that solidifies the InCryptid novels as one of the most engaging urban fantasy series I’ve ever read.
Garrett received a review copy of this book courtesy of DAW Books.
Look for a giveaway of the trilogy next week alongside our review of Half-Off Ragnarok!