Middlegame (Alchemical Journeys, #1)
By: Seanan McGuire
My Rating: FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS
Best for: 18 and up
[Staring blankly at the wall…]
What did I just read? WHAT DID I JUST READ!
I haven’t been book speechless in a long time. This is one of those that’s so hard to describe–Middlegame is so many things. It’s science fiction, it’s urban fantasy, it’s speculative fiction, it’s time travel. Some have said it’s horror, but I say not horror. Just creepy. It’s complex, it’s detailed. It demands patience. It’s math. It’s language. It’s magic. It’s literally all those things.
Sum it up? Middlegame was an absolute thrill, and I loved it.
Roger and Dodger are twins, separated at birth. One grows into a genius in language, the other in math. As children they discover they can enter each other’s minds. They live on opposite coasts, but they talk to each other and see through one another’s eyes. Together they feel whole, separated they feel broken. Twins are close–but Roger and Dodger’s bond is something more…something bigger. What is it? Why are they connected? Why were they separated? And why does the world seem to conspire to keep them apart?
Part of the joy is figuring out the whys, so no spoilers here. I’ll just say Middlegame is so well-written my brain gridlocks trying to explain how it can be. It’s simply not possible for a book this complex to be that engaging. But it is! This is the kind of story that begins with the end, then slowly trickles context over the next 500 pages until it all comes gloriously crashing together. It’s exactly the kind of book that gets this book nerd’s heart racing and brings a smile to my face.
I loved Roger and Dodger, I thought they were outstanding characters. I loved their flaws, and I loved their growth, and I loved them together. I turned the last page a couple days ago, and they’re still running around my brain trying to find a place to settle. I’d love to read more of their adventures.
Here’s something else book-nerdy AWESOME: Have you ever heard of an author called A. Deborah Baker? Go look her up. She’s written a series called The Up-and-Under. Book one is called Over the Woodward Wall, and it was published in 2020, one year after Middlegame. “What’s the big deal,” you say? The deal is this: Over the Woodward Wall is a book heavily referenced in Middlegame…whole chunks of the story are used to carry the plot forward and the author, A. Deborah Baker, is actually a character in the story. How is this possible? Over the Woodward Wall was published after Middlegame! Here’s how (book nerds better be sitting down for this one): A. Deborah Baker is an alias of Seanan McGuire! They’re the same person, and she wrote an entire other series based on the character and story she developed for Middlegame! It’s super meta, and it’s super cool!
BTW, Seanan is pronounced Shawn – in, like “Let Shawn in.” Now you know that too.
There are several reviews of folks who didn’t appreciate the complexity of the story, or the excessive whimsy they felt was out of place in a book for grown-ups. If you’ve read Cat Valente’s marvelous Fairyland stories, you’ll know type of whimsy I mean. This bibliophile marveled at the complexity and reveled in the flitting and floating whimsical prose. In other words, Seanan McGuire speaks my language. I also saw many of the unfavorable reviews were from folks who listened to the audiobook. I did not, so I can’t comment. But based on the uniformity of the negative reviews, I’d stay away from the audio of this one. Reading the words was just too much fun.
So fun, in fact, I’m now reading another book from Seanan McGuire—Every Heart a Doorway, which might sound like a romantic love story, but it’s not. It’s book one of a series called Wayward Children. It’s about a boarding school for children who found their way to magical places, made it home, but then got depressed because they couldn’t go back to their magical land and no one believes them. Sounds amazing to me!
There is a moderate amount of tense, creepy violence. The back half of the book has a handful of F-bombs (27, to be exact). No sexual content. Based on the language, I recommend Middlegame for Adults only.