Middlegame by Seanan McGuire | Book Review
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Roger and Dodger are alchemical creations. Born with a single purpose. To break the natural rules of the world and reach the impossible. Their creator, Reed, has tried over and over again to produce a pair of children able to change the world. And time and again he has failed. But then everything changes. Separated at birth, Roger and Dodger begin to show signs of success. A connection previous pairs have been unable to achieve. As they begin to realize their abilities, Reed manipulates their lives to serve his purpose. Moving the children as if they were chess pieces, risking their mentality, their health, their very being. Whatever the cost, the impossible will be his.
The overall tone of Middlegame is dark, edgy, and willing to push the limits of the genre. There is a mixture of horror elements bound together to make it an unsettling read. And by listening to the audiobook, the brilliant narration of Amber Benson helped embody the ominous presence of the characters. Not only did she capture various dialects, but she also pitched the voice of the alchemists in a way that made your skin crawl. Between the writing style and the narration, Middlegame became a disturbing and fascinating alchemic story.
The alchemy build up and explanations did take a while for me to process. Not all the pieces of the story were presented upfront. The timeline switched between various points in the main characters’ lives. And while it fed into the overarching plotline, I struggled to understand it all. When listening to chapters focused on the alchemists, my mind would drift. Their use of alchemist verbiage and constant talks of the Doctrine lost me. Unfortunately, their sections did make up a large part of the book, so often the story hit a lull for me.
However, when Roger and Dodger were the focus, I was swept up in the complex and interwoven story of their lives. Both children are highly talented in their own ways. Roger is a master of language, granting him the ability to easily communicate with others. Dodger on the other hand sees the world through a Math lens. Numbers and calculations form their own sort of language for her, yet it also keeps her apart from her peers. When their minds begin to connect the ways in which they balance one another are artfully portrayed. Then again, so are the ways they can spiral and disconnect from the world when they are no longer supporting one another. It’s a delicate balance and the scales often tip to one side, showcasing the horror of what happens when the experiment begins to go wrong.
While the story didn’t always keep my attention, the amount of apprehension and friction Roger and Dodger experienced as they discovered their true purpose kept me reading. I want to know more about these two characters, even if the foundations of the alchemy that created them don’t interest me as much. I’ll give book two a try now that Middlegame has laid down the foundation of the world. And I would still recommend those who enjoy dark fantasy stories that focus on mental health and experimentation to give this try.
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