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Discount Armageddon
by Seanan McGuire
Daw, $7.99, 368pp
Published: March 2012

Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant) seems to be showing up as a guest at every other convention I attend nowadays and she has new books out each time. She's seriously prolific so it's about time I started in on her work if I want to stand a chance of ever catching up.

Her primary series appears to be her October Daye books, which started with 'Rosemary and Rue' in 2009. She ratcheted up to two of those per year, until she began the InCryptid series to alternate with it. This is the first novel in the latter, which currently runs to five books. A new one appears each March, while a new October Daye book shows up every September; the next in that series will be book ten.

I thought I'd start with the shorter series first, especially as it began as McGuire was getting seriously established. I liked it a lot, not only for its core adventure into urban fantasy but for the sheer breadth of supernatural beings which she hauls into scope. Never mind vampires and werewolves; those are passé and it's time for, well, pretty much everything else, from bugbears and hidebehinds to waheela and madhura.

The framework is of a world where supernatural creatures live amongst us but without us ever realising it. They're just regular joes; albeit with their own little quirks and talents, as befit different species. An ancient group of fanatics, the Covenant of St. George, are dedicated to eradicating them all from the face of the earth; but, a century or so ago some rebel Covenant members split away from the fold, realising that they were doing bad not good. Today, they are known by cryptids everywhere as the Price family and they're our heroes.

It won't be too surprising to find that we follow one of them, Verity Price, as she attempts to build a dancing career under a pseudonym in Manhattan, only to get caught up in all sorts of cryptid shenanigans, complicated by the presence of a rookie Covenant boy named Dominic de Luca. They should be enemies, of course, but you know how books like this are; it doesn't take long for the pair of them to leap into bed together and their inherently shaky relationship is likely to build over the many books to come.

As obvious as some of this truly is, it's a major success for a number of reasons.

One is that the characters start interesting and only get more so as things progress. We do meet many other members of the Price family here but mostly only in brief scenes over the phone that merely hint at how interesting they would be as leads, too. Very's brother breeds basilisks and her grandmother visits the underworld whenever the dimensions align so she can search for her lost husband. Only her adopted cousin Sarah gets a major presence here and she's a blast. We don't meet any Covenant members except Dominic this time out, but their presence looms over the story like the Sword of Damocles. Surely they'll show up at some point in the series, probably soon.

Another is that many of the characters are cryptids, which gives them firm opportunities that are usually grabbed with both hands. Very is a waitress at Dave's Fish and Strips, run by a bogeyman who employs a variety of wild and weird species as strippers and waitstaff. The main thread of the story, which revolves around a dragon that may be sleeping under the city, trawls a number of them into its relentless march forward, not only the one who's a dragon princess but who hasn't ever seen a male of her species because they're supposedly extinct.

McGuire feeds us these species like she has a million of them in backup and she starts early with the Aeslin mice who live in Very's apartment. These are a gift to anyone who wants to adapt this into a live action television show, though it would cost some CGI dollars to animate them. They're really mice but they're also religious freaks with eidetic memories and a penchant for celebrating everything, like the Holy Feast of Kissing the Next Man Who Walks Through That Door. Oh yes, there's comedy here as McGuire writes with a practiced sass that comes through not only in her characters and the ways she troubles them but in how she stages her chapters and introduces their settings.

She also hints at far more than she shows; which is a great way to grab our interest, if the Aeslin mice weren't enough on their own. We hear about a lot more cryptid species than we meet and some of them have to show up for their close ups, Mr. De Mille, soon. For instance, she explains about the Johrlac, better known as cuckoos, at length but manages to throw in Apraxis wasps just for good measure. They have precisely nothing to do with the story but their inclusion as an aside in an explanation is glorious. I immediately wanted to read a book about Apraxis wasps. And cuckoos. And bugbears, lindworms, Jersey Devils and the rest.

Clearly McGuire writes quickly and that shows because this is a quick read, even at three hundred and some pages. 'Discount Armageddon' is a fun novel, fast-paced and alive, but it's also an introduction. By the time we reach the end of the story and turn the page into the brief glossary of cryptid species referenced thus far, we feel like we've lived in this world with these characters for years and it's an odd feeling to realise that no, we've only just finished book one.

This wasn't my first experience of Seanan McGuire or of this series, as she had an InCryptid short story in the 'Press Start to Play' anthology which I reviewed in February. I enjoyed that but it was far from my favourite piece in that book. This, however, drew me firmly into the InCryptid universe and I'm eager to follow up with 'Midnight Blue-Light Special,' the second book of the five currently on shelves. Watch this space. ~~ Hal C F Astell

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