July 3, 2018
Hugo Reading 2018: Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire
This is another entry in the new Best Series category. The author had a previous nomination last year, for her October Daye series, which did not win. To be honest, I'm not expecting this series to win either, not with such competition as the Books of the Raksura and the Divine Cities (my current no. 2 and no. 1, respectively). However, I enjoyed this more than I expected to, seeing as urban fantasy as a genre seems to be a bit faded from what it used to be. I know I'm reading less of it, myself.
The conceit of this series is the existence of "cryptids," creatures of myth and magic (defined by some as "monsters") that exist in our world, and the family named Price that protects them. This idea requires quite a bit of handwavium to support the notion that in the day of Twitter, Google Maps, and instant cellphone video, the populace at large would not be aware of the presence of sirens, Sasquatch, Gorgons, and the like. (For instance, our protagonist, Verity Price, talks about members of the family riding along on a Greenpeace ship to "hide the annual plesiosaur migration." WHAT!!!??? The reveal of actual Mesozoic-era survivors would be one of the coolest things ever, especially if said dinosaurs were sentient and could say, "Your industrial civilization is destroying the planet.") If you can't overlook this, you are likely to crash and burn on this series only a few pages in. But if, like me, you are drawn in by the characters, worldbuilding and setting, you are embarking on an enjoyable ride.
Verity Price, in particular, is a strong and compelling character. She is spending a year away from her family in New York City, trying to decide between starting a career as a professional ballroom dancer or joining the "family business" of protecting cryptids. She runs across (or rather, gets caught in the rooftop trap of) a man called Dominic De Luca, who is a member of the Covenant of St. George, the centuries-old secret organization dedicated to killing the cryptids. There is a great deal of bad blood between the Prices and the Covenant, as only a few generations ago Verity's great-great-grandparents were members. But upon realizing that more than a few cryptids were sapient beings that did not deserve death, the family broke away, and has been in hiding ever since.
Like many urban fantasy heroines, Verity Price kicks ass and takes names. (Although I think she is wasted as a ballroom dancer. With her mad tumbling, gymnastics, unarmed combat, and free-running skills--she gets around Manhattan by running across rooftops--she could be cleaning up on American Ninja Warrior.) She is snarky and at times impulsive, but her loyalty to her friends is absolute. She and Dominic get involved in a plot to awaken an honest-to-Ghu dragon sleeping under Manhattan, and along the way we learn a lot about the many species of cryptids populating this universe.
I've seen this series called fluffy, and honestly, I don't know where that comes from. It's not as grim as some urban fantasy books I could name, and there's a lot of humor in Verity's snark and various character interactions, but I don't think this is a particularly light read. It is, however, a surprisingly good one, at least to me.