Middlegame is the latest release by Seanan McGuire and is absolutely amazing. You need to read it. That is all. That is my whole review. READ IT.
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.
Below, is part two of my buddy read and discussion with Marzie’s Reads, and friend of the blog Janelle. ****THERE ARE SO MANY SPOILERS. If you have not read Middlegame, stop, go read it, and then come back. THERE ARE ALL OF THE SPOILERS BELOW.****** You can read Part One here.
Alex: Jumping back into the story, I really liked the cat that wouldn’t die, Old Bill. He was a great little flavor. And I really liked how we saw Roger and Dodger at different points in their lives.
Janelle: Yes! The cat!
Marzie: That was awesome with the cat, yes. It’s interesting about Roger and Dodger. You know our two oldest kids are twins. They’ve had periods of time where they’ve barely spoken for a year or more (because of fights) and then they just mysteriously reconnect. That reconnection she wrote between them, again and again, felt so real to me based on what I see with our kids.
Alex:I think people will like hearing that – I saw some questions on GR about the twin representation, and whether or not it was going to be any good. Speaking of which, did anyone notice the lack of representation in this book? Seanan is so good about that usually, that it kind of bothered me that the only rep I saw was Smita, who took their blood. Everyone else was kind of white, straight, and cis.
Janelle: I did notice that, actually.
Marzie: I thought it was a little weird, really, for her. Yes and Smita, the only POC, got Erin-ed. Yikes.
Alex: The absence was jarring, since Seanan is usually so good at making that seamless and feel like we’re in a real place with real people.
Marzie: It has to be very deliberate. But it did feel odd. Seanan never does anything by chance with her craft, so she must have had reasons for writing it without a lot of diversity.
Alex: I can’t imagine what reason she’d have for writing such a homogenous book as this. Other than she expected a lot of people would die, and didn’t want to be accused of killing all the rep off?
Marzie: And as it is, she did kill Smita.
Janelle: I’d really like to mention that the way they chose to terrify Roger into not contacting Dodger felt real enough to be heartbreaking. I felt like it happens to so many children. Not on such a high level, but I think most of us reading this have had moments of being gaslit by adults. It felt very abusive. It was one of the more real, horrific moments in the story for me.
Alex: Oh god, yes. I felt for him so deeply then. It was one of the times I cried while reading. I was crushed when Dodger didn’t seem to understand his reasons. That feeling of unfairness that you made a decision with good reasons, good intentions, but you still hurt people and your intentions don’t get you a pass was just seeping off the page.
Marzie: I had to take a break there the first time I read it. It felt like a perfect example of manipulating a child to me, after all my years doing child welfare stuff. So awful and so very real. The way adults can manipulate children with fear of losing their family is searing.
Janelle: Exactly. “If you tell what I do to you, your whole family will be taken away from you.”
Marzie: It was pretty much that, yes, and again made me think of organized religions that have abuse problems with children. That kind of power is frightening and so easily can become abusive. But as much as I cried for Roger, I felt much worse for Dodger who had no idea of what happened. Roger had his family but Dodger lost her line to the world in a way.
Janelle: I felt for both of them. It was crushing.
Marzie: So I’m really curious to see if this book has changed Seanan as a writer. Like, can she write just Seanan or just Mira in the same way now?
Janelle: I guess we’ll find out with The Unkindest Tide.
Alex: Or maybe sooner, with the Shadow of Spindrift House.
Marzie: Yes, and I was so struck by the Spindrift chapter title in Middlegame. It’s not a common word and even if there was no connection, it has me thinking that this book has percolated through both her author personas.
Alex: I totally missed that! On another note, if you could have the powers of Language or the powers of Math, which would you choose?
Janelle: God. Tough question. I’ve always felt a kinship with language, but feel so stupid about math. Part of me wants to choose math so I could see it. Intellectually, I understand how beautiful a proof can be, but I don’t get it.
Marzie: I’d choose math because it IS as language to me. It’s a universal language like music.
Alex: I am all about the language. The right language can solve so many problems. I would like to just be able to tell the universe how to be.
Marzie: But the right language is math! Trust me. Aliens speak math.
Alex: But math describes how the universe IS. I want to tell it what it SHOULD be instead. And Roger is a polyglot by the end, speaking all the languages he wants. Why should alien languages be any different?
Marzie: But human languages describe what is and what can be just as math does. And Dodger creates things with math that Roger cannot. Like more time. Math allowed her to manipulate reality in a way Roger cannot.
Alex: I am not arguing that math isn’t a language. If we follow that logic, then language powers include math powers and then you get cake and eating it too and that is beyond the point of this very silly question. 😛
Marzie: It’s not a silly question! It was certainly important to separate the two to James Reed, for instance, so….
Alex: It is because I asked it in a silly spirit 😉
Janelle: I choose math. I made my choice. When do I get to become Dodger? Isn’t that what you were offering?
Marzie: Sigh. Now Alex will just have to tell us how to remake the world and time.
Alex: *cackles* there is that. What is a gun without a trigger but a state of frustration?
Marzie: Seriously there were times reading this when I realized that I have felt like a cuckoo at times. Within my family, I mean. Maybe we are all Cuckoos.
Alex: Seanan has a serious Cuckoo theme going on right now. In the X-Men, in Middlegame, in InCryptid. She does tend to interrogate the same subjects over and over and over for a while.
Marzie: It’s a rich trope to mine!
Janelle: Now I’m picturing Seanan shining a light in some poor trope’s eyes, demanding it tell her EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW. “I know you’ve still got more for me. I can do this all night.”
Alex: I mean she kinda did that in Indexing. A few times.
Marzie: Janelle that cracks me up! But yes, Alex, it’s like this is a culmination of a lot of things she’s explored in other books or comics.
Alex: It’s part of what makes Middlegame feel so familiar, and yet be still groundbreaking. If you had handed me this book blind and without context or cover and didn’t tell me who wrote it I still would have been able to tell you it was Seanan. I might have guessed Mira first, but I’d have known it was her. It’s *SO* her.
Janelle: I feel like I would’ve known her as well. The voice is more sophisticated, but it’s still her.
Marzie: Well, I’d have known from that Vixy quote, but yes, it’s unmistakably hers. So any other thoughts than, “please ma’am, some more?”
Alex: I want to shove this book into people’s hands. It’s not like Wayward where I feel that it should be required reading for every human, but it’s very good and I think people will really enjoy it once they pick it up. It’s definitely in my top 5 Seanan/Mira books.
Marzie: It’s very thought-provoking stuff to me. I really hope it’s widely read, too. I honestly think it’s one of the best things she’s written and I hold the Newsflesh books and the Wayward books in pretty darn high regard.
Janelle: There’s just so much in it. From child abuse, to sibling relationships, to love of language and math… there is a lot to process in it, and it’s told so engagingly that I think it really ought to find a wide audience.
Marzie: I have to mention that I have such love for the way she wrote Dodger and her mathematical abilities. That passage where she solves the Monroe problem and then turns around and is later suicidal because she can’t solve herself, her situation, her role. Just wow. We’re seeing so many great stories about women in science and math right now, and Dodger, even though she’s an alchemical construct, is one of these.
Alex: So are we all talked out for right now?
Marzie: Yes, because I’m busy downloading the audiobook. I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to listen to it. But Janelle, thanks so much for discussing the book with us!
Janelle: Thank you, Marzie! Any idea if you two want to do another buddy read with me again?
Marzie: I’d love to, Janelle.Alex: I am open to another buddy read, too, depending on what we choose.