Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

DAW, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-7564-0713-1
Fantasy, 2012

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In this world, spooks and humans co-exist with, of course, most humans being unaware of the existence of these spooks. I know, I’ve just described pretty much every urban fantasy series in the market at the moment. Still, Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series looks like it’s going more along the humor-and-some-violence route instead of the angst-angst-angst one, and it’s refreshingly free from werewolf boyfriends, vampire beaus, and Most Powerful and Special Queen of the Universe stuff. Of course, there’s no guarantee some time down the series that a werewolf pack lord or a vampire king won’t be parachuted in, or that the heroine won’t discover that she is carrying the magical blood of some goddess and she’s destined to bear the God Damned Baby Savior of the Universe, but I’d like to keep my hopes up and be optimistic when it comes to getting into urban fantasy series new to me.

In Discount Armageddon, we meet Verity Price. She’s “a Price girl”, part of the infamous family that broke ranks from the Covenant of St George. The Covenant was formed a long, long time ago to protect the safety of humans from spooks, and somehow their agenda had evolved to “kill all spooks, no exceptions”. Verity’s great-great-grandparents disagreed with this agenda and decamped. However, you don’t just leave the Covenant, they dump you, and usually bad things happen to you when they decide to do that. Since then, the Price family lay low. They hone their skills to protect themselves, and they also carry out a modified version of the Covenant agenda – they protect humans against cryptids, as spooks are called here, that meant to harm them, but they also protect cryptids that only want to exist peacefully with humans.

Verity is stationed in Manhattan, mostly to keep an eye on things, but also to pursue a career in dance despite the family rule that forbids any of them from getting press attention and hence attracting the attention of the Covenant folks, who are still holding a grudge. Like most people, she finds herself waiting tables more often than not. Aside from an occasional ghoul showing up to munch on people, life isn’t too exciting. That is, until a Covenant guy shows up in town, and when one shows up, the rest tend to do so later… usually to perform a brutally efficient cleansing of the town of all cryptids. And then female cryptids start disappearing, and this guy, Dominic De Luca, has the perfect alibi (his tongue is down Verity’s throat in a perfectly non-carnivorous manner). Verity knows that there is something else – or maybe some things – clearly out and about in town looking to start trouble.

I find the setting pretty fun. Sure, it’s another one where every spook from every popular legend and folklore (and some not-so-popular ones as well) tossed in to create a campy and kitschy world with manic and self-aware ridiculous overtones. But the author’s treatment of these elements manages to keep things fresh and interesting. Or maybe it’s just me. There is something about spooks playing waitresses and strippers in a club run by a boogeyman that appeals to the Tales from the Crypt fan in me – the whole thing is so cheerfully camp and absurd that I just have to love it.

The plot is interesting, both as an introduction to this world and to what kind of mayhem that people can get up in this place. Verity and Dominic can sometimes do silly things, but I’m okay with this because those two know how to shoot, hack, and pulverize their way out of any trouble they find themselves in. Verity and Dominic have some pretty amusing moments together. Unlike most urban fantasy lead male characters, Dominic is human, so there is no annoying “I feel horny for you, it’s the mate bond, and I will now howl at the moon and stalk you while readers pant and wish that they are in your shoes as I am obviously the hottest dynamite in this series, and you will read to the end of this series because all you will care about is my constant and vigorous shagging of the heroine” nonsense that tends to sink many urban fantasy series out there into a “I’m the most powerful snowflake queen of the universe and I get humped by the most powerful alpha werewolf in the universe so together, we are legion” mess. What, me, a disenchanted reader of Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels books? How can you tell? Is it my “Beast Lords can choke on my asparagus” T-shirt?

Anyway, where was I? Right now, Verity and Dominic seem to be on a somewhat equal playing field with the bad guys, so things are pretty fun. He messes up, so can she, so can the villains, and there is a genuine sense of suspense here, as if the good guys are really in danger and they can die. Also, the two darlings have an opposites attract thing going on pretty entertainingly here. He’s more methodical, but hilariously archaic in his perceptions of male-female and human-cryptid relationships, although he doesn’t at the same time become xenophobic or turn into an alpha male brute; she’s more on the impulsive side, but she’s also the one carrying the Greenpeace card when it comes to cryptids. I also like how these two don’t rush into a serious relationship by the end of the book. I like it when people take it slow and build things up across a few books.

There are some occasional moments that have me scratching my head, though. While I do appreciate the author letting these two do their thing without having the suspense ruined by an army of loyal savage werebeasts providing back-up muscle, I find it hard to believe that Verity’s family would consent to let her do her thing without sending back-up. The threat she faces is considerable – a potential genocide is looming, and cryptids are being wiped out by who knows what. And these people decide that it’s more important to go hunt basilisks elsewhere? And that her brother is willing to let her do things alone and let him know by email only if she’s in real trouble? It’s not like these Price people hate one another, so I don’t know what is going on here. The author’s effort to keep the rest of the Price folks out of the picture feels forced indeed.

Also, while I do appreciate some good lines here, the author has Verity cracking out the sarcasm so often, even during moments when some degree of sobriety would be more appropriate, that the poor dear comes off like a doll whose “ON!” mode can’t be switched off. Sure, funny lines can lighten up things, and the hilarious juxtaposition of flippant one-liners with dangerous moments never get old. But have the heroine just keep cranking the lines out and I soon think that the heroine is either hiding some serious psychological damage or is just a plain old-fashioned sociopath, or maybe the author is just overdoing her best impression of Joss Whedon. Since Verity doesn’t seem to be crazy or nursing some kind of bad trauma in her past, I can’t help but to think that the author is overdoing it.

Anyway, Discount Armageddon is a fun and easy read, all things considered, and it takes me away into an entertaining new world for a few hours. Right now, I’m staying on this train and I’m very interested to see what it’d take me.

Oh, and some points are deducted for not having any Vincent in Verity’s family. This is the right setting to make that kind of homage without coming off as too cheesy.

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Mrs Giggles

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5 Comments

  1. Sold!

    Read your comment about small town romances and UF in a different review, do you think Kate (and Mercy) are the UF examples of the same? They are kept women, who are more or less dependent on their lovers these days. (Even in Book 1, Mercy was always more romance herione than UF protag to me. But Kate started out as a potential female king.) After the last Kat book, I really thought Kat needed to either leave Curran or kill him in order to retain any semblance of “kingly” power given his transgressions. But that’s just me.

    Have you read Three Parts Dead? I liked the concept, the writing is decent, the mystery unfolds slowly but it did take patience for me to get through the story.

    Reply
  2. I haven’t read those Mercy books (I know, I know!) so I can’t comment on that character.

    I won’t say Kate is a kept woman – she can definitely hold her own and she is not isolated from the world around her. She’s become more insular since she became the supreme consort of the most powerful werething ever, but she’s not someone who needs Curran to save her from herself. I don’t consider her in the same category.

    My issue with Kate is, mostly, the increased insularity of her character from the fascinating setting. The werething part of the series is the least interesting aspect, in my opinion, because it’s the same old fur and mate and stalker sex all over again. There are so many things that are far more interesting, and yet, the last two books are all about the pack.

    Being Curran’s mate also, I feel, ties up her character to him way too much. He’s that kind of guy who doesn’t let Kate do anything in the name of “being protective”, and it’s awful because this creates a forced dependency of her on him, and also it sees him doing stupid things that aggravate matters because she could have taken care of herself just fine if he hadn’t just barged in like a mad bull.

    And then, as you’ve mentioned, that thing that happened in the last book. If Curran dies, I’d be at the front of the line to dance on his corpse because he is one of the worst things to happen to the series. Annoying, 95% fanservice for readers who just want the fantasy of the powerful hairy Clark Kent stalking and overwhelming his mate, and 100% responsible for contrived conflicts pitting Kate against other women.

    My other issue is the power creep. Kate is super powerful, Curran hits like a mack track, the hyenas are super killers with daggers and guns… it is coming to a point where everyone in Kate’s entourage is a master in something. I wish the author has timed Kate’s power ascendency better, as right now every villain is going to feel like an underpowered mensch and can only win by swarming the good guys with overwhelming numbers.

    It’s a shame. I feel that there are more things to be explored in Kate’s world, but the author is choosing to focus too much on the boring werething stuff even as the power creep surges up. Usually power creep signals the end of my honeymoon with a series, as the power creep usually leads to increasingly suspense-free confrontations with villains that feel underpowered in comparison, or the power creep just goes on until the heroine becomes the goddess of everyone and everything (ugh).

    But breaking up with this series is like parting ways with a hot guy without having seen his private parts – the party is only starting when things are starting to get tedious. And that’s a shame.

    Haven’t read Max Gladstone’s books but I’ve just ordered Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise.

    Reply
    • Mercy: really, it’s okay some decent mythos (love the capricious fae) but it’s always been heavy on the were and solutions can be anti-climatic on a certain level (not sure that’s the right word).

      I got the last book and haven’t read it because apparently I don’t care (at the moment) which is a shame because I enjoyed the author’s universe (on the Mercy side even though Mercy’s character isn’t who the author keeps telling me she is.)

      I’m waiting for Two Serpents Rise and the next one so I can’t comment there. Three Parts Dead lingered for me even though I found the story kind of simple (maybe simple in it’s complexity??) and a few times I was wondering why I was still reading. Certain scenes and concepts keep appearing in my head so the author captured something for me. I’m intrigued enough to want to see he does with his world and I really like the ending and loved the epilogue on this one.

      Kate, Kate, Kate. I’ll fight you for the happy dance line if Curran were to bite it (I know it would never happen).

      Kate is competent in a militaristic manner and she can hold her own but I think her treatment with the mate thing is far more insidious than the small town kept woman messaging, even if she competent and can stand on her own two feet. She’s being neutered and put in her place.

      I’m with you on the rise of the weres. I’m still sad over Kate’s villainous Aunt being deposed the way she was. Hugh (who I happen to like) gets to live to fight another day and the female villain, who’s supposed to be more powerful gets taken down so easily and anti-climatically. As does Aunt B.

      I’m telling you, the underlying message of this universe has become that female power has its place and it’s not number one on the power totem.

      And what Curran did in that last book, undoes everything Kate did to secure her position within the pack. He basically put a target back on her back. And he’s slowly taking away her allies and getting them to work for him instead of her. Isolation. Given enough time and their penchant for violence as part of their lovemaking dance, I can’t help but wonder if he doesn’t become a domestic abuser (yeah, the worldbuilding won’t allow it). He’s got the isolation technique and assigning distracting duties down pat.

      What’s sad is that I really loved the universe, the fun and the exposure to different mythologies. I’m with you on the ultimate show down with her dad.

      I do plan on giving Clean Sweep a shot.

      Reply
  3. Hmm, I never thought about Curran isolating Kate in that manner until you mention it, and I think I agree with you.

    I’m not happy about Aunt B and the evil aunt too, but a cynical part of me puts the Evil Aunt being shoved out of the way thing down to the relatively low value of female characters in urban fantasy dedicated to female readers. Male villains can be romanticized and “redeemed” (see: countless Draco and Snape fanfiction), but good luck finding many readers who’d appreciate similar qualities in a female character.

    I’m sad about Aunt B because she’s fun and now we’re down one less strong female character in an universe increasingly populated by powerful male weres.

    Reply
    • Not just physical and community isolation but also income isolation and non-paid work. (She’s supposed to be a mercenary.)

      I agree about the male v. female character redemption aspect but I still object. The author’s created a female character who survived the war of the gods, been an army general and worshipped throughout the ages getting taken out like a minion. If she must die (I’m okay with that) then she needs to die gloriously.

      Aunt B… so, so sad.

      I’m off to read Once Upon a Kiss (with the caveat that I’m not much of a historical reader any more).

      Reply

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