Rating: 3.25 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

“Honey, they were a family the whole time you were gone, and they would have been a family if you’d been there. No single person gets to make the decision of whether or not something is a family. They would have been a family if you’d never come back at all, and they’re going to be a family with you and without her. Families change. There isn’t a single static definition that says ‘You must have this exact assortment of people to be a family,’ and we wouldn’t want there to be.”

Alice Price had a choice to make and she made it, abandoning her young son and newborn daughter in her desperate quest to find and save her lost husband. She wasn’t there for first steps and first words, wasn’t there for the good times or the bad; every now and then, when Alice was able, she’d visit. But her children lived their lives knowing they weren’t enough, that they would never be enough. Now that Alice has found her husband, Thomas, and has him back, she’s returning home to be with her family — including her children, now grown and parents with children of their own, children who have formed a family without her.

And quite a family it is. One can set things on fire, while another turns them into ice; one is a cuckoo queen with a pet giant spider, another is a bogeyman, and that’s just a small fraction of the giant, extended collection of family. Whether they are witches or sorcerers; unhuman, half-human, and semi-human; born or adopted, married in, found wandering, or simply someone who ended up belonging, every member of the family has one thing in common, and that’s Mary.

Unchanging, undead Mary. At sixteen, Mary made a bargain with a creature at the crossroads. They would allow her to be a ghost, to move between the mortal world and the spirit world … for a price. In return, all Mary asked was to be able to protect her family. That was over 80 years ago. In that time, she’s seen generations of Prices, Bakers, and Harringtons be born. She’s changed their diapers, taught them to use their words, kissed their foreheads, comforted them, and loved them. Mary has seen them through first loves and first kills, but this is the first time she’s seen one of her children take their last breath.

The Covenant, an English group of monster hunters, has killed one of Mary’s children. They shot her with a gun and ended her life and Mary wasn’t able to stop it. These hunters have been trying to kill, capture, and control cryptids for so long they have forgotten that they, too, can be hunted. They drop airstrikes on safe houses, kidnap and torture young women, and seem to have no desire to stop. Not until they kill everything and everyone with a drop of non-human blood in them.

How fortunate Mary doesn’t bleed.

This is the thirteenth book in Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series and it’s probably best to read this series in order. I, however, started here, so my review will be on this book as a standalone, rather than as a continuation of an ongoing series. And, I have to say, it didn’t quite work. In a long running series, you develop fondness for the characters (especially if you’ve been keeping up with them for over a dozen books) and when one of them falls in love, or wins against a big bad — or loses a fight or dies — the emotional beats hit and hit hard. But as someone unfamiliar with these characters, it all just comes across as a well-crafted book with too many characters and a diffuse plot.

There are over twenty members of the family introduced, and each one is a sketched out form of where a character should be. I was never given enough time to get to know any of them beyond Mary and Sara, and the world building felt just as light, because it was all done and established in other books. That said, the dragons in this world, how they work, and how little the world understands them is marvelous. I absolutely loved how the author created them. The Aeslin mice (which aren’t mice, but look close enough to count) and their religious worship of the Price family is adorable and sweet and creepy in equal measure.

The story is told from the point of view of Mary, who knows all of these people on a deep, emotional level. Their pain hurts her, their need calls to her, and the loss of one of her children doesn’t so much hurt as it does unsettle her. She’s a ghost, she knows that there’s life after death, she knows that they’ve moved on and aren’t in pain. Mary’s focus is the living and their grief, and on stopping the attacks before she loses anyone else. Her plan is callous, cruel, and she faces it unflinchingly.

It’s Sara, inhuman and lost Sara, who grounds Mary, who needs her almost more than her toddler charges, more than her adult charges. Sara is a cuckoo, an insectile being with monumental powers who grew up thinking she was human. While learning to use her power, she hurt one of her cousins — badly — and lost another, who now lies comatose in a hospital where he might never wake up. The family doesn’t blame her, but she blames herself. And it’s Mary she calls for when she’s hurting, Mary she trusts to take care of her, Mary who she listens to when all she can hear is the hatred she unleashes on herself.

This is a book about love, about being the one to shoulder the burden to make the difficult choices and to see them through so that others don’t have to. Mary will be a monster so her children can be children, can continue on with their lives. She will break herself if needed to make sure they remain whole, and sacrifice anything and everyone else in the way.

However, all the other characters? I felt like they weighed this book down. They were distracting and often redundant. It’s not just one arm of the family in trouble, it’s three of them, forcing Mary to jaunt across the continent, having to repeat the same information, deal with the same stress and trauma, and it left the book feeling bloated and the pace tedious. The villains were never well defined, other than that they would kill anything in their way, save for the one who — for some reason — obsessed over one particularly pretty female member of the Price family.

The issues would probably read differently if I was deep in the series, because I’d care to see how everyone was doing in this time of trouble, but without that, this book struggled to stand on its own feet. So, the question (in my mind) is whether this book is strong enough, the writing good enough, the character work and world building enough to make me want to pick up book one in the series.

Sure. If the series comes my way, I wouldn’t mind reading it, but this book on it’s own didn’t convince me I need to go buy the series. However, as always, different people have different opinions. This is a solid entry in the paranormal world, well written, with strong characters and flashes of interesting world building. But this book is also lopsided, with too many redundant characters. So it’s up to you. If you’re a fan of this series, you’ll probably enjoy this book. If you’re looking for a new paranormal series to get invested in, this world does look like fun.