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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I Am SO EXCITED to Read Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame

I’m pretty sure I got to be the first person to check out Seanan McGuire’s new book Middlegame from the library, because it is in my apartment RIGHT NOW and also because I put a library hold on a copy four months ago.

Here’s the blurb:

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

And here are the two related articles you should read this weekend:

Whatever: The Big Idea: Seanan McGuire

This is the book that took me ten years of writing basically constantly before I could call myself good enough to write it.

That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best thing I’ve ever written, or that it’s going to be anyone’s new favorite, although of course, I hope both those things are true. It just means that from a sheer craft standpoint, it took me a very long time to get all the skills necessary to write what is essentially an alchemical superhero story about family, connection, and time travel. Juggling the various timelines this story required a level of precision that I had to work my way up to. I’m still a little stunned that I was able to manage it. And as the reviews have come in, even the ones that didn’t like the book have been forced to admit that I managed my timelines well, which is really all I had any right to hope for.

Tor: “Sit down, write, keep writing” — Seanan McGuire on the Daily Process of Writing a Novel Like Middlegame

This is my process: I get out of bed, having already assigned myself tasks for the day which include which projects I will be (need to be) working on; these assignments are based on my deadlines, unless I’ve managed to get far enough ahead of deadline to buy myself some free time. When I have free time, it’s less recess, and more free study: I get to work on projects that haven’t necessarily been sold yet, or aren’t slated to be, like the free short stories on my website. The words happen every day that it’s possible, and some days when it really shouldn’t be (Disney World or San Diego Comic Con are both environments that are very antithetical to getting actual work done).

And here I am telling myself that I’m not going to work on NEXT BOOK while I’m at Disney World. Now I might have to tell myself to live up to Seanan’s example. ❤️