Imaginary Numbers by Seanan McGuire

Imaginary Numbers by Seanan McGuire

I realized I’d missed a book in the InCryptid series, and one I’d been looking forward to, when news of the next book reached me, so dug out our paper copy. Sarah’s story is unique for the series so far because it’s written in the narrative voice of someone who interacts with the world differently on many levels.

It’s not that Sarah’s the first cryptid to hold a major role. We’ve shared space with ghosts, dragons, werewolves, and variants I’d never heard of before. Sarah, though, cannot touch without violating a person’s inner world and cannot read expressions well enough to interpret intent or state of mind. Without telepathy, she is all but struck blind and only aware of those around her if they cross into her line of sight.

I wanted to see how the author handled these differences when, for the most part, the lead had also been the narrator in the previous books. There are many cryptids who are friends and even family. Sarah’s not alone in that distinction as much as her species sets her apart both because it’s from a vastly different dimension and because the Johrlac are parasitic, ambush hunters.

Her species isn’t the only one that hunts humans either. Some of those others are even in the acceptable range for the Price family as long as they restrain their appetites. I think what makes the Johrlac so repulsive, beyond their overwhelming selfishness, is the feeling of violation when they remove the last protected space – the mind. It’s an underlying human fear running through our literature, and the reaction to torture or cults. Rewriting someone’s internal wiring is not cool.

While it may seem as if I’m talking at random, these are major themes in the book. The war mentioned in the book blurb is as much for minds as land, at least at first, and Sarah is the battleground.

Here’s where things get dicey. The narrative voice I was looking forward to all but disappears for what felt like a good part of the book. This isn’t Sarah’s story, despite appearances. It’s Sarah and Artie’s story. I went with it because Sarah wasn’t in a position to narrate, but I found the change startling.

Artie is half cryptid on his father’s side, which comes with significant limitations. Still, in affect, he’s human. He has the same wants, needs, and reactions. He doesn’t have to second guess every thought to see whether it arises from a repellant species. In other words, he’s a more comfortable, familiar voice to most readers, at least when doused in cheap men’s perfume.

The repetition of catch-up material threw me out of the story a couple of times. It happened when Artie took over from Sarah, but there was some repetition in Sarah’s portion already. Artie rehashed history of the extended Price family, and how his and Sarah’s unusual cryptobiologies work. I don’t remember this being an issue in the earlier books, but time may just have swallowed the knowledge, and it’s a minor annoyance.

My biggest issue came with the cliffhanger ending. If you don’t like those, be forewarned. The following book is right around the corner, though, which means we don’t have to stand on this cliff for long. And that’s not to say some things aren’t resolved. Long-term threads, even those stretching back to the very first book, came to satisfactory conclusions while even major parts of the main plot are tied up by the end.

Questions raised in the cuckoo war are answered in fascinating ways, and the big reveals were well seeded, allowing me to anticipate almost all of them. I just had to wait to see if I was right. Interesting cryptid discoveries, mostly about the Johrlac, kept me reading and involved in the story.

I really liked what this story did for the Johrlac. It’s a strange thing to say when the teaser is all about a cuckoo war, and I’m not going to give you specifics, but if you’re enthralled with discovering new things about cryptids, there’s meat for you in this book. Even the mice, who I adore, have their moments. It will surprise no one who pays attention to learn the mice are more than the Price family sees.

The character development in Artie and Sarah, among others, also appeals. They face a lot of challenges in this book on a personal and public level. Nothing brushes past the characters on either side of this war without leaving a wave of change in its wake.

Ultimately, this book isn’t my favorite of the series, but I never wanted to stop reading it. Fascinating things are happening throughout, and there are moments of levity to lighten the dark. Maybe not as many as some would have preferred, but they are there. This story is big on the Price motto of family first unless the world’s at risk, and it teetered between those opposing values well.

P.S. There’s a new novella in the back that I’ve yet to read: Follow the Lady.

This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Share Your Thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.