Book Review: Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame

Readers often comment that Seanan McGuire’s novels make them feel seen; that they don’t often get to read about protagonists who are asexual or autistic or trans, for example, unless that particular attribute is at the center of the story, i.e. A Book About How This Person Is Different.

But McGuire’s books are rarely about How People Are Different.

Instead, she tells stories about math and science and love and fairies and secret doorways and parallel universes, while subtly and empathetically reminding us that there are many different ways to be human.*

Interestingly—or ironically, if you don’t mind my using the colloquial definition—Middlegame is about a pair of twins, Roger and Dodger, who are not fully human. They don’t know that, of course; not at the beginning of the story, anyway. They definitely don’t know that if they were to meet in person, they could end up activating a force that would allow them to control the world.

The novel should appeal to fans of Good Omens, The Wizard of Oz, the TV series Leverage (which I first learned about through Seanan McGuire’s Twitter and have since watched in full three times), or anyone who likes a good time travel narrative.**

But the reason Middlegame became my very favorite Seanan McGuire book was because—as readers often do—I understood myself a little bit more after seeing the world from Roger and Dodger’s perspectives.

People who grew up as Gifted Children, regardless of whether they were also created by alchemists in order to embody the Doctrine of Ethos, will probably see bits of themselves in these characters as well.

Which isn’t what the book is about, of course. You’d never describe Middlegame as “a story about two former prodigies who have to figure out how to manage their interests, quirks, and obsessions as adults while learning how to form the authentic connections that are often difficult for people who grew up out of sync with their peers.”

I mean, it’s a book about time travel. And magic. And chase scenes.

On that note—the other thing I love love love about Seanan McGuire books is that the magic always makes sense. There are rules to these worlds, and because of that you never spend the story thinking “these showrunners did not stop and ask themselves how dragons create fire and whether they have a limited amount of dragon lighter fluid stored in their glands or whatever, they just decided that any one dragon could generate as much fire as was necessary to the plot, from any height, with perfect aim, without worrying about wind or anything like that.”***

So… go read Middlegame. I’m turning my copy back in to the library today, which means it’ll be available for the next person who wants to check it out. ❤️

*What I especially love about McGuire’s stories is that they rarely include one-dimensional villains. Her antagonists are people too, and readers can understand and sympathize with the choices they make.

**The last three novels I’ve read have all featured characters roughly my age who have to deal with the ethical consequences of time travel. I didn’t plan this. I wonder if it means something.

***Yes, my biggest nitpick about the most recent Game of Thrones episode was that the dragon didn’t have rules.

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