It's been a while but Alex, Janelle and I have been looking forward to discussing Middlegame for weeks! In that time I've read it twice and enjoyed this book a great deal. Middlegame released on May 7th and is available at an Indie bookstore near you, in audiobook (don't forget to check Libro.fm to support your nearest indie bookstore), or from an online seller. If it's not at your local library yet, please ask your librarian to order it! You might end up getting it on loan first just for asking!
Let's dive into Middlegame.... But remember, FULL SPOILERS ALERT.
Alex, Janelle and Marzie Read Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Marzie: So honestly, I’m not even sure where to start talking about this book.
Alex: Well, like the book, let’s start with the end. Holy carp I loved this book and the ending was sooooooooo satisfying.
Janelle: I was surprised at how positive the ending was. I had no idea how it would all come together, and I don’t expect “happy” endings from her.
Marzie: It was definitely a positive ending, especially considering how the ending started and iteratively seemed to always end up with bloodshed. It was surprising and after seeing so many endings from Seanan that are dark, and remain dark. Actually, it was quite stunning to me. This was a happy ending!
Alex: This was a very bloody book! It felt like Seanan’s two sides (Seanan and Mira) struck a perfect balance. There were some very Mira themes and twists, but some other parts of the book struck me as very, VERY Seanan and had a very Wayward flavor.
Janelle: I was just about to say that I felt like this book took the whimsy and poetry from Seanan, and the dark science fiction from Mira! It almost seemed like Mira and Seanan are alchemical twins, and this book wedded them together.
Marzie: That is such a perfect description of it, Janelle. This novel is a perfect amalgam of Seanan and Mira.
Alex: There was definitely some of the poetry/story within a story structure that Seanan likes to employ in her horror novels at play here. And I loved it.
Marzie: I was very struck by the actual language in this book. I felt like it was the most sophisticated thing I’ve read of hers in that respect. I feel this is literary fantasy/sci-fi.
Janelle: Agreed about the language. But I felt like we couldn’t have expected less from that, considering the subject and characters.
Alex: I think Seanan would also agree with you. She herself has described it as though she has leveled up in her craft. She couldn’t write this book before now because she wasn’t a good enough writer to pull it off technically. And I agree with that. If she had tried to write this when she was way back in Rosemary and Rue times, I don’t think she’d have done it.
Marzie: I think her reference to craft also deals with the sophistication of the time slip usage, which was very novel. This isn’t the usual form time slip takes. Although, I did feel that the alchemical issues were not fleshed out as much as I might have expected. But maybe it would have been too… dense if she had really developed it more. It’s a long book as it is. Though it is just as long as it needs to be to tell this story right.
Janelle: The time slip stuff was where the book fell a little short for me, actually. I guess I expected more concrete answers than what we got. I had to set aside some questions that I had and just enjoy the book for all the rest of its outstanding attributes.
Alex: Yeah, I have a hard time with books with time-travel or time slips in them, in general. There’s usually too much “handwavium” for me to be satisfied.
Marzie: Even the alchemy is hand waving here. We never get much information about how things are accomplished. How did they make these people, how does the unified twin power work.
Janelle: Which… I don’t mind a little hand-waving. It didn’t break the book for me, or anything. And there was so much that I loved.
Alex: Yes, true. But I kind of think that’s the magic at play here. I don’t need to know how it all works for the story to work for me.
Marzie: For me, the jewels of the book are Roger and Dodger, their relationship, and Erin.
Alex: Roger and Dodger’s relationship was so well written. I love them so much!
Janelle: Roger and Dodger were wonderful. Erin was the dark side of it, but I never lost empathy for her.
Marzie: I really loved Erin so much. She was so dark but so compelling. Even when she did horrible things, I never forgot what she lost, what had been taken from her.
Alex: She was just so *done* with all of it by the end. I felt for her so often, missing Darren. It broke my heart.
Marzie: The callousness of James Reed and of Leigh was just stunning to me. And I felt like the whole bunch of alchemists was like a representation of the very worst that organized religion has to offer.
Janelle: James Reed was chilling. You know, I hadn’t even thought of the organized religion representation, but now it is so apparent.
Alex: Yeah, Marzie that is a good point that didn’t dawn on me until you pointed that out in your review. James didn’t bother me so much as Leigh did. Nothing mattered to James other than his goals. Leigh reveled in the pain. She really struck me in my core.
Marzie: I felt like the alchemical college is the equivalent of Pullman’s Magisterium, where no price is too high, everyone is expendable in order to gain power over people, the world, etc.
Janelle: See, Leigh reveled in pain and was pretty much a sadist. But I’ve always found the calculating, for-the-greater-good type evil far more horrifying. I think because of the real-world angle in that… I think charismatic people who just want to carry through with their goals can do a lot wider-spread damage than sadists. I don’t know if that makes sense. But you see him gathering people to his cause, and there are real world parallels. I mean, I loathe both of them, but James a little more than Leigh.
Alex: They’re definitely both awful and horrible and the worst, but I’m the opposite. I am more disturbed by those who prefer to be cruel than by those who simply don’t care. Sadists scare me more than sociopaths.
Marzie: I’m not sure I like either one over the other. They were each horrible in their own way. I don’t want either type to influence our world.
Alex: I am equally grossed out by hands of glory. They are CREEPY.
Janelle: Hands of glory! I keep seeing references to them now and just shuddering! Like, I knew what they are because of folklore, but seeing it in a plot from such an evocative writer as Seanan was gross and terrifying and wonderful.
Marzie: The hands of glory was SUCH a Mira Grant device to use. OMG they are creepy! When we first see one, I looked at the cover and just about dropped my ARC going CRAP, how could I have forgotten about those! (I think I remember them being used in a Stacia Kane novel and tried to bury the memory of them!? And isn’t there one in Harry Potter, in Borgin and Bourke’s? Yuck!)
Alex: I knew instantly when I saw the cover that it was a hand of glory, and that was a signal to me that the book would have alchemy in it, but UGH! The one made of rendered baby fat??? *shudders*
Janelle: Honestly, I had no clue it was a hand of glory from the cover. LOL
Marzie: The child one was really the limit, yeah. Janelle, you were lucky, weren’t you? I’m sure you’d have forged ahead and all but going into it blind was probably better than dread. LOL
Janelle: Lucky? I just got to be surprised is all. LOL
Alex: Seanan/Mira certainly does toe the line between horror I can read, and horror that haunts me and I can’t finish. She’s an expert at that line.
Marzie: You know the thing that really stuck me in this book was that a lot of times I feel Seanan’s Mira Grant books have horror that is quite clinical (which I, too, tolerate better, by the way) but there was something so visceral about what James and Leigh want to do, how they do it, and how they force their creations to do such horrors. I felt much more emotional in reading this book than I have in any Mira book since Feed.
Alex: I think that’s the thing about this book, it’s about two sides of a coin, marrying two opposites all the way through. Roger and Dodger, Mira and Seanan, Alchemy and Science, Horror and Science Fiction, clinical horror and visceral imagery.
Janelle: I agree about the thematic weddings. What an eloquent way to put it, Alex!
Marzie: That’s so true, Alex.
Janelle: It was the clinical horror wed to visceral imagery that is still lingering with me.
Marzie: Oh, totally. I started rereading it all over again because I just couldn’t let go of the characters and their circumstances.
Alex: Oh yes. It’s been weeks since I read it and it’s still knocking around in my brain and I keep hoping I’ll find time to reread it in the near future. I feel like there’s a lot more to pick up on a second time.
Janelle: So where are we in hoping there is a sequel? I thought I heard she wanted to do a companion novel?
Marzie: I want to listen to the audiobook, too. And I think there must be a sequel and a prequel. It’s Middlegame, after all
Alex: YES! She wants to write at least two more. And I want to read them very badly.
Janelle: I just want to see what else is going on. I want more.
Marzie: I hope she writes Asphodel’s story and then tell us what Roger and Dodger have made of their world even if we don’t see them as central figures in a sequel.
Alex: I have a hard time seeing where she’d go after this one, she did such a good job of tying it up in a bow, but if she writes it, I will read it. This is a fun universe.
Janelle: It has a lot of potential. If we don’t see Roger and Dodger, I’d be okay with that.
Marzie: I can see working forward, but also backward from here. I’m so curious about Asphodel.
The discussion continues over on Alex's blog, here. Go read the rest, or I'll come after you with Erin.
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