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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monsters, Mambos, & Mayhem in Manhattan


Running around Manhattan in a dingy pair of track shoes is hardly an activity likely to raise many eyebrows. Neither is dashing about clad in designer-heel knockoffs or sporting a skimpy cocktail waitress get-up, for that matter. But, conducting a considerable amount of all that hustling back and forth at sky level, from one rooftop to another, or mucking about in the subterranean levels, below the deepest subway tunnels? That definitely qualifies as unusual. And, doing it loaded down with an assortment of guns, throwing knives, and other concealable weaponry, in pursuit of creatures straight out of “The Night Stalker”? Yeah, that’s just plain odd, even by New York standards.
It’s all just another day’s work for intrepid Verity Price, though, in Discount Armageddon, the first book from Seanan McGuire’s brand-new (and delightfully off-kilter) urban fantasy series, known as the “InCryptid Novels”. [Curious about her other works? Check out my reviews, here and here.]

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It seems that the rooftop-scaling, underground-prowling Ms. Price came by her fascination with creatures-that-go-bump-in-the-night quite naturally, hailing--as she does--from a long line of cryptid-(monster)-hunters-cum-researchers (or cryptozoologists, to use the proper jargon). Originally part of an ancient order of monster hunters known as The Covenant of St. George, the family broke off following an ethics dispute generations earlier. 
Since their acrimonious split, the Prices have functioned independently, trying to maintain a peaceful co-existence with the cryptid population by studying them and searching for amicable solutions to problems between the different segments. The Covenant, on the other hand, holds a grudge like nobody’s business, and their current crop of devotees--who function rather like a modern-day, traveling Inquisition (minus the religious overtones)--have made it their mission not only to rid the world of cryptids, but Prices, as well... forcing the beleaguered Prices to conduct their work (and live their lives) in secret.
And about that whole secrecy thing... not ideal under the best of circumstances, of course, but especially difficult for a willful young woman like Verity, whose grand passion in life happens to be... ballroom dance. (What, you think someone who studies monsters can’t nail the technique for doing a full-on, down-and-dirty Argentinian tango, or a romantic, lyrical waltz? Ha. Feel free to argue that with the girl who began training to fight--and win--before she entered kindergarten.)
As fate would have it, it’s that same love of dance which lands Verity in quite a nasty mess in Discount Armageddon. If she weren’t pursuing her professional ballroom dance career (disguised and under an alias, of course) in New York City--on the opposite side of the U.S. from the rest of her family (and more importantly, from any support if/when things get dicey)--then she also wouldn’t have been conducting solo research there, or been on her own to deal with the sudden rash of cryptid disappearances. (She wouldn’t have found herself face-to-face with a deadly-earnest Covenant dude looking to make a name for himself on his first big solo mission, either.)
Between trying to pay rent (even at a majorly-reduced rate for her not-remotely-legal sublet) and scrounge up enough funds for the competition entry fees and wardrobe expenses (part and parcel in the world of dance) by moonlighting as a cocktail waitress in a sleazy nightclub, and keeping up with the family work (which was a big condition in her being allowed to go off on her own, in the first place), it’s not like Verity doesn’t already have enough on her plate. Whoever is behind the mysterious cryptid disappearances--heavy on single young females, curiously--clearly doesn’t care about making things convenient for Verity, though. And, when tragedy strikes close to home, and cryptids she knows personally start winding up missing (or worse), she knows she has no choice but to get involved. 
As rumors of terrible, ancient monsters abound and tensions mount among Manhattan’s large cryptid segment, Verity finds herself being sucked into the center of the maelstrom... and forced to consider allying herself with one of her worst enemies, before every cryptid--and maybe, even, every human--in the city winds up dead. Or worse...       

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If her Toby Daye series is “Seanan McGuire having a typical, somewhat-crappy day (week, year) filled with occasional bursts of maniacal laughter to stave off the insanity”, and the Newsflesh zombie books are “Mira Grant (McGuire’s sci-fi alter ego) waking up sweating bullets after a really bad frickin’ nightmare (one full of evil clowns, chainsaws, and the Plague)”, then Discount Armageddon falls more along the lines of “Seanan McGuire enjoying Rainbow Brite daydreams of happy sparkly ponies and cupcakes (until a fluffy kitten accidentally impales her with a claw when leaping onto her lap)”. In other words, it’s a lighter take on monsters and the people who live among them; there’s no intricate world-building, and everything generally moves along at a faster pace, from the relationships to the action. It’s a little bit campy, a little bit pulp... and I enjoyed the heck out of it. (Hey, I live for “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars”, so having a kick-ass, samba- and jive-dancing heroine like Verity Price is just plain cool, in my book.) It still has that quintessential McGuire flavor, too, full of wicked smarts, sarcasm, and biting wit, wrapped up in a slightly wonky way of looking at the world. (Again, I so get that.)
If you like your urban fantasy on the light-and-spicy side--or could just use a break from heavier fare--Discount Armageddon should definitely find a spot on your list. It’s delectable entertainment, pure and simple. :)


GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  A Fabulously-Fun Mousie