I enjoyed 'Discount Armageddon,' (Click here for review) the novel which kicked off Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series, immensely, even though the grand sweep was, shall we say, rather predictable, and I'm still not sure what the title has to do with anything. I have no idea what 'Midnight Blue-Light Special' has to do with anything in this sequel, either, but I'm happy to say that it's a lot less predictable, while continuing to build our fascination in the New York that young Verity Price lives in.
You see, she might think of herself as a burgeoning ballroom dancer, eager to make it a professional career, but what drives her life in no uncertain terms is what else she does, namely cryptozoology. She's a member of a family who dedicate their lives to protecting the cryptid population of our world, most obviously from the organisation that their forebears belonged to, the Covenant of St. George.
We've already met one Covenant member who, in the grand tradition of the Price family, she's corrupting away from his vows and into her bed, all by showing him that cryptids are just like the rest of us even when they're, well, not at all like the rest of us. At least they don't deserve to be ruthlessly murdered for being different, which Dominic de Luca, Very's sort-of boyfriend from the Covenant, quickly realises.
It's impossible to read the first novel in the series without seeing some of what had to come at some point later on. For a start, Dominic clearly had to make up his mind as to which side he's actually on and he had to do it quickly. Surely the best way for that to happen is for the Covenant to send someone else to evaluate his progress in the city so nice they named it twice. He was in New York to determine whether a purge was needed and, given the size of the city and its fabled diversity, it's no surprise to find that there are cryptids all over the place, from most of the strippers and waitstaff at Dave's Fish and Strips to the dragon living underneath the city. So, if he makes the decision not to tell the Covenant about any of this, he's likely to have been turned.
McGuire does exactly this: three Covenant members travel over from the United Kingdom to check out whether De Luca is still with them or not. They're not a nice trio of religious fanatics, which is hardly surprising, but one of them is a relative of Very's, part of the Healy line left when her grandmother did her vanishing act from the Covenant with Thomas Price generations ago. This personalises the fight in a magnificent way and adds considerable depth to the battle.
And battle it is. On one side: the three Covenant members, each talented in their own twisted way. On the other: Very and whatever army she can throw together from friends and acquaintances. In the middle, still trying to figure out which side he wants to be on: Dominic de Luca.
It's a great setup for the first InCryptid sequel and McGuire delivers. No, I wasn't particularly surprised at much that happened in the first novel, but I was surprised here and more than once. Things get much more brutal than I expected, for a start, and the story takes a few turns that I wasn't expecting in the slightest.
This all bodes well for the future of the series, though the biggest twist is the one that shows up in the acknowledgements once the great battle is over and done, namely that the next couple of books are going to focus on Very's brother, Alex, rather than continue her work in New York. That does make sense for many reasons, which are now going to seem rather vague, but I've arguably given you one spoiler already and I'm not going to give you another.
Very's family didn't appear much in the first book, but we were introduced to them in asides and phone calls and the like. By the end of this one, we still haven't met most of the family, but they do get more prominent and a few of them show up to join in the fun, even if they're not blood relatives. Uncle Mike, who's as much an uncle as Sarah's a cousin, shows up less than a hundred pages in, from Chicago, to support Very in her campaign against the Covenant. He's a solid addition to the battle, even if his character isn't played up as much as it easily could have been. I'm still waiting for the Antimony Price book, but Very's younger sister only gets a little phone time here.
Talking of Sarah Zellaby, Very's Johrlac cousin, she got some attention in the first book and gets a lot more of a chance to shine in this one, with the chapters told from her perspective fascinating reading.
I appreciated McGuire's idea to play down the usual supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves, while introducing a whole bunch of less well-known cryptids: some we surely recognise, such as gorgons, chupacabra and basilisks; a whole bunch that she presumably made up, like Aeslin mice, dragon princesses and Apraxis wasps; and even more that feel like she made them up but do actually exist in the folklore of the world, like waheela, caladrius and tanuki.
Jorhlacs are one of McGuire's most fascinating and scary creations, a race of telepathic sociopaths who lie instinctively with psychic power to back it up. That, and the fact that they look human, makes them massively difficult to find. Istas the waheela, an Inuit therianthrope, or magical shapeshifter, may seem to have the edge on character with her gloriously casual approach to mayhem, but Sarah has the depth and I'm very thankful that she gets to explore some of it here.
In many ways, this plays as the second inevitable half of a duology, with some neat twists and turns thrown in for good measure and a whole dollop of escalation. However, there's still a vast opportunity for growth and these characters will surely be back for future books, once Alex Price has had a moment in the spotlight. It wouldn't surprise me if some of them cross over to his story too, because this is a fully imagined world but one we've only begun to explore.
Next month: the first in the Alex Price books, 'Half-Off Ragnarok.' ~~ Hal C F Astell