Indexing by Seanan McGuire
Short Review: A team of government agents try to stop predatory fairy tales from taking over the world by solving fairy tale crimes in this episodic tale where happily ever after isn’t nearly as wonderful as it sounds. An exciting overarching story told through episodes reminiscent of the very best crime shows.
Long Review:The ATI Management Bureau is people with men and women whose lives have been hijacked by fairy tales, their flesh and their minds made over to suit the predatory Narrative. Henrietta “Henry” Marchen’s mother was taken by the Sleeping Beauty story, casting Henry right into the Snow White mold. Skin as white as snow with lips as red as blood aren’t nearly as attractive as Disney would have you believe. Henry leads her own team of agents comprised of an Evil Stepsister (the embodiment of feminine evil in fairy tales forever stuck in a teenage body), a Shoemaker’s Elf (because someone has to do the paperwork) and a man who lost his brother to a Sleeping Beauty that manifested in a remote small town whose inhabitants died of starvation before anyone realized what was going on. The team solves cases in the best traditions of all the crime shows you’ve ever seen.
The book comes from a deep love of all things fairy tale. McGuire clearly knows her fairy tales, enough to find the weird, obscure references, the points of divergence. She knows just where to twist to get the biggest effect. She knows just which parts of fairy tales to play straight for the most horrific effect. She is very good at finding the points where fairy tales meeting reality cause tragedies. She is also very good at finding the humanity in age-old stereotypes.
The crime aspects of the book are interesting and varied, the mysteries behind each of the episodes are engaging, each of them a twist on some well-known fairy tale. But these are no “monster of the week” episodes; each novella drives the larger story forward, toward an ending that is both satisfying and exciting.
Mary Robinette Kowal is easily one of my all time favorite readers. She has the skill to bring characters to life in a way that many others lack. She’s amazing at conveying emotion without letting it take over the story she’s telling. I’m prone to cry at narratives with convenient bends to them, but I have never made it through a book Mary has read without crying. She is a master craftsperson who uses her voice to cause pain and suffering as well as joy and laughter. I can’t get enough of her reading.
I love this book more than I can say. I’m generally a fan of Urban Fantasy; women doing heroic things in modern cities with speculative fiction trappings is entirely in my wheelhouse. Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite authors for many reasons, but the fact that she writes books like that alone would automatically make her a clear favorite. But on top of these, Indexing specifically also taps into my eternal addiction of crime shows. I recommend it to everyone who likes fantasy or crime.
My only quibble, the only thing that makes this book less than perfect, is the fact that it ends too soon. Like the crime shows that clearly act as inspiration, Indexing ends in a series cliffhanger that will most likely be resolved in the second book. And frankly, I get somewhat impatient with cliffhanger endings. While no author is the reader’s bitch I generally try not to get too into books that have cliffhanger endings without the next book in the series being available.
Full Disclosure: I’m a student of Mary Robinette Kowal’s and might, therefore, be slightly biased in her favor. That being said, she was one of my all-time favorite readers before she ever started offering classes that I could attend. And I attended her class because I really enjoyed her work. See, how that’s a vicious cycle?