Saturday, July 5, 2014

Monsters in the Wilds of Ohio

Last year, when giving my two cents’ worth on Midnight Blue-Light Special (the second installment in Seanan McGuire’s urban fantasy “Incryptid” series, which you can catch up on/refresh your memory about, here), I mentioned a few things of which I have no knowledge whatsoever. (And no, nothing has changed on those fronts, in case you’re wondering… including my utter lack of skill with an onion.)

That brings me to another area in which I have no personal expertise: knowing what it’s like to be the eldest child (or the middle, youngest, or any other position in the familial pecking order, for that matter, being an only, myself). Sure, I can sort of imagine what it must be like, growing up with siblings—splitting the attention, resources, space, blame, responsibility, etc.—but I’ll never actually know.

Not so with Alex Price, star of the third “Incryptid” tale, Half-Off Ragnarok. The first-born child in a branch of the family hailing from a very long line of cryptozoologists (think of them as scientists-slash-monster-wranglers), Alex is the serious one, the level-headed, even-tempered guy who has an ordinary day job… and pursues the not-for-public-consumption side of his work (observing and cataloguing various species of cryptids, or mythological-only-to-you-and-I creatures) under cover of deepest, darkest night.


Compared to younger sister Verity—who holds down a job working at a sketchy nightclub and splits the remainder of her time engaged in the competitive world of ballroom dancing and leaping across New York City rooftops in the wee hours of the night in pursuit of wayward (think badass-killing-machines) monsters—and baby sister Antimony—who is proving to be more than the proverbial handful, even at her young age—Alex is like Clark Kent: a stolid, nerdy, just plain nice guy.

Of course, when one deals with monsters on a regular basis, it’s vital to always keep one thing firmly in mind: Expect the Unexpected (and then, For Crying Out Loud, Deal With It).

Looking at it from the outside, most people probably wouldn’t envy Alex Price’s life. By day, he manages the reptile house at a Columbus (Ohio) zoo, which means handling exhibits and overseeing a tiny staff responsible for taking care of the snakes and other cold-blooded whatnots, therein. The majority of his nights are eaten up tramping through the woods of central Ohio, taking notes on the habits and lives of fricken (feathered frogs, basically), whose numbers seem to be rising at an alarmingly-dramatic pace, then writing endless reports on his findings. And occasionally, he squeezes in time to hook up with sorta-girlfriend Shelby Tanner, a visiting Aussie on assignment at the Big Cats house (think lions and tigers and leopards, oh, my). It’s a mostly-predictable sort of life, just the way Alex likes it.

But, when he and Shelby stumble—literally—across the body of their (former) co-worker one day while walking through the zoo grounds, and Alex notices that the dead guy appears to have been petrified—something which only a very few cryptids (and no humans) can do—life suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting. Then, when another body, also petrified, is found—and an attempt is made on Alex’s life—it’s clear that life isn’t just more interesting; it’s dangerous.

With the help of his grandparents (whom he’s been living with, and who possess, shall we say, rather unique skill sets of their own), and his adopted cousin (a mind-reading “cuckoo” who was injured while saving Verity’s life, and subsequently got sent from bustling-with-too-much-humanity NYC to comparatively-safe-and-quiet Ohio to hopefully speed her recuperation)—as well as some unexpected aid from another corner, Alex understands that it’s up to him to shed his Clark Kent-ish persona and find his inner Superman… saving not only himself and those he cares about, but the secret that is the very existence of cryptids, from regular Joes like you and me (who, frankly, probably wouldn’t handle knowledge of snake-haired people, fire-breathing dragons who can speak, or creatures who can turn you into stone, very well at all).


Following a bit of a slow start (which both surprised and worried me a little, as I never feel that way when I pick up anything by McGuire), Half-Off Ragnarok takes off once the action finally gets going, and I actually wound up liking Alex Price just fine. Whereas Verity has flair, passion, and runs on high-octane energy at a break-neck speed, Alex is the solid, grounded (albeit monster-chasing) Midwesterner who prefers to live life at a different pace. While there isn’t as much excitement in that, it feels true to his character and serves his story well, as do the relationships with his grandparents and cousin, and with Shelby (who, coincidentally, graduates from casual date to full-fledged girlfriend in a neat way). 


Even with Alex’s relative stodginess and normal-ness, the “Incryptid” series remains a lighter-hearted spin on urban fantasy, as created by the almost-impossibly fertile imagination of Seanan McGuire (who also brings us the incomparable October Daye series). It’s a fun diversion and an easy read, and the upcoming fourth book already has a spot waiting for its arrival on my bookshelf.  :)


GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  Mousies Worthy of a Summer Afternoon   

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