Saturday, March 27, 2021


Seanan McGuire
Completed 3/27/2021, Reviewed 3/27/2021
4 stars

It took me about seven years to read another book by this author.  In 2014, I read Feed, which McGuire wrote under the pen name Mira Grant.  I loved it.  I read that one for book club, and would have read one under her own name last year if the pandemic hadn’t sidelined the group.  (It will be the fourth book we read after we all reconvene in person).  I got his one on sale.  It was nominated for the Hugo and won the 2020 Locus Fantasy Award.  I loved this one too.  It’s a smart take on alchemy, mental powers, and time set in the modern world.  I don’t know what took me so long in reading something else by her, but I have to say, McGuire is batting 1000 for me.

The story is about James Reed, an evil alchemist who creates twins trying to imbue them with something called the Doctrine of Ethos.  It’s basically a power that gives you control over the universe.  Through these “children” of his, he plans to take control for himself.  Roger and Dodger are his latest twins.  They grow up on different coasts of the U.S. but are connected through something like telepathy.  They’re paths criss-cross, intentionally and unintentionally.  Eventually, they find out the truth about themselves and must find a way to stop Reed before he claims the power of the Doctrine and destroys them in the process.

The evil villains in this book, Reed and Leigh, are kind of the moustache-twisting, cackling laugh kind of villains.  They are stereotypical single-minded megalomaniacs who will stop at nothing to attain their goals.  Reed is the lead alchemist.  He was created by a female alchemist in the mid-19th century from dead body parts, and imbued with life, sort of a la Frankenstein.  Leigh, created in the same way by another alchemist, is simultaneously his co-conspirator and rival.  She is not quite his assistant, but does a lot of his dirty work, like murdering when necessary.  Both are deliciously evil, which makes up for their lack of emotional depth.

Roger and Dodger are the main characters.  They are the best characterized in the book.  Their relationship is complex, beginning when they’re seven when Dodger starts helping Roger with his math homework by appearing as a voice in his head.  They’re not sure of why they can communicate at that point, they just do.  But their relationship is tenuous for several reasons, including pressure from Reed and Leigh who silently watch over their progress.  So they are sometimes connected, sometimes not, often to their detriment.  When they meet in grad school, they are both fairly broken individuals, though Dodger more so.  She’s an intensely introverted math genius while Roger is a more adjusted master wordsmith.  But they find they complete each other and resume their psychic connection.  Another character, Erin, is another creation of Reed and Leigh, who is sent to watch over Roger and Dodger.  She’s also pretty well constructed, both vicious and introspective, landing somewhere between her creators and the twins.  

When I started this book, I didn’t think I would like it.  It had a very weird form, with the ending appearing multiple times throughout the book.  I found it distracting and didn’t get it until I was almost finished reading.  Then it became clear what was going on.  In hindsight, I have to say it was pretty smartly done.  There were also times through the first half of the book that I thought that the development of Roger and Dodger and their relationship went on too long.  Also in hindsight, I thought it was well done, because more is revealed the farther in the book you get.  It all works together, you just have to stick with it long enough for all the twists and turns to appear.

I give this book four stars out of five.  I found it quite gripping, and I was pretty investied in the twins.  I thought the pacing was a little uneven, but as I said, you’ll understand the first half better as you go through the second half.  I think this book was pretty craftily written.  The prose is good and keeps the tension of the story pretty high.  I’d recommend this book as a good suspenseful modern fantasy. 

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