I’m a long time fan of Seanan McGuire, who writes urban fantasy as McGuire and horror as Mira Grant. I thought the first two books in the Incryptid series sere a ton of fun, and even though the third book didn’t thrill me I thought maybe that was an anomaly and that the fourth book would be better. But Pocket Apocalypse is so bad that it makes me actually angry.
The Incryptid Series is a light urban fantasy series about a family who studies, and in some cases manages, legendary and mythological creatures. The series is relatively light in tone, a nice change of pace from the common angst urban fantasy (McGuire’s October Daye series is an excellent example of darker, edgier urban fantasy). The first two books involve Verity Price. While the books had problems, I found them to be engaging. The third book focuses on Verity’s brother, Alex, and I took a bit of a dislike to him – I found him to be smug. But I told myself that this was just personal preference and that the quality of the writing was just fine. I’ve reviewed the other books at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Here’s my review of Discount Armegeddon, here’s one of Midnight Blue-Light Special, and here’s one of the first book featuring Alex, Half Off Ragnarok.
The latest book, Pocket Apocalypse, is set in Australia and features Alex and his girlfriend, Shelby. It has many things I love. First of all, I love anything set in Australia. There’s tons of detail about all the crazy critters, just like in the previous books, and I eat that up with a spoon. The Aeslin Mice hitch a ride to Australia in Alex’s carry-on bag, and I love the mice, who make a festival out of EVERYTHING. McGuire’s sense of imagination and wit are fully functioning. So what went so horribly wrong with this book?
Let’s start with the subjective. I can’t stand Alex. I wasn’t wild about him in the last book and in this book I hate him with a fiery passion. He’s smug, he’s superior, he’s condescending, he makes speeches that in no way sound realistic. Shelby, who had a sidekick role in the last book, should have come into her own in this book, but nope, she still needs rescuing. We know from the Price family that families in this line of work need to be vigilant, but Shelby’s family goes beyond any kind of reasonable caution and is a bunch of blustering, incompetent, trigger happy sociopaths. I’m left rooting for the side character of Helen the Wadjet, and the mice.
But I’m willing to admit that that’s very subjective. Maybe some people might like the family – might see them as admirable outlaw types fighting the good fight whose actions are justified because of the dangerous conditions in which they live. Maybe some people think Shelby is spunky and Alex is reasonable and intelligent. Even given all that, there’s a writing quirk that just drives me mad. With almost every single sentence, McGuire stops to have Alex patiently explain what’s happening to the reader. This is a trick she’s used before as a way to get a lot of exposition across, and in other books it’s been fairly effective. It’s not effective in this book because it’s so horribly overused. Yes, I need to be told (or better yet, shown) that bunyips are a real thing. No, I do not need the action to screech to a halt so that Alex can explain to me, patiently, as though I am a small child, the difference between domestic and international flights and the terrors of thrombosis. When Alex takes a nap, he explains that in a war you have to sleep whenever you can. I KNOW THAT. When a bunch of people say (I’m paraphrasing), “We were told it by way of rumor,” I don’t need Alex to respond by saying, “I could tell that we were dealing with a whisper campaign” (again, paraphrasing – the point being, yes, Alex, I can tell too, because someone ALREADY TOLD ME). Every thing any character says or does is immediately explained to the reader. McGuire writes perfectly good characters. I can infer their motives from their histories, their actions, and their statements – I don’t need Alex to explain everything to me. When he’s not explaining things to the reader, he’s explaining things to the other characters, and usually, they are obvious things.
I have to admit that I did not finish this book. I let Alex mansplain for 85 pages (out of 340) and then I gave up. I did some skimming and read the end. The end was not so very compelling or convincing as to make me change my mind, although it did remind me that Helen the Wadjet is freaking AWESOME and that nothing will ever diminish my love for the mice.
Every author has stylistic quirks. Seanan McGuire has a very distinctive way of inserting exposition. Usually it works just fine. This book was so frustrating specifically because I know from her past writing that she’s capable of being so very, very good. I will even read the next book in the series, which is about Verity again and not Alex the explainer. This particular book was just too much of the same quirk again and again. It was tedious and honestly it was insulting to both my capabilities as a reader and McGuire’s as an author. She’s perfectly good at showing and there’s no need to accompany every single show with a tell.