DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0813-8
Chaos Choreography brings back Verity Price, the protagonist of the first two of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid books, which means we are once again back in an urban setting. Relocating a plesiosaur, being a married lady, and hosting a congregation of Aeslin mice are all nothing compared to being invited back to an all-stars season of
So You Think You Can Dance Dance or Die, reality TV dance competition that comes complete with a vaguely homophobic executive producer. As Valerie Pryor, Verity once took part and came in second. Since then, she had put her aspirations to dance behind her as she committed to playing the protector, assistant, superhero-at-call, and unappreciated mule to all the woo-woo folks in the neighborhood.
Only, don’t call them woo-woo or monsters, or Seanan McGuire will have Verity deliver a lecture about using discriminatory language on these whatever-challenged creatures. Humans don’t really matter in this series, because the author is writing this series specially as a big ball of wish-fulfillment for all those special snowflake unicorn-kins in Planet Tumblr. Stop calling me a freak, ma, I am a dragon-kin with sparkling Aspergers, and you are only oppressing me by asking me to clean my room and get a job – that kind of thing. Good thing she does it in a fun manner, or we’d all be so embarrassed about being caught even discussing this series.
So, Verity can’t resist going back for one last hurrah. Just one last one, and she will then move on with no more regrets. Just one more round, to experience the adrenaline rush, the dance, the… oh crap, someone is brutally killing the eliminated dancers in what seems like a summoning ritual for a snake god from another dimension! Call the Ghostbusters… the progressive version, please, with four fabulous womyn instead of disgusting cis-male patriarchy-scum oppressors – oh wait, here’s Grandma Alice with all her guns and grenades instead. Can Verity, Grandmother Alice – who passes herself off as Verity’s younger sister as she is experiencing some kind of reverse effect of time – and their woo-woo friends save the day before a snake god – no, not a stand-in for the big fat penis of patriarchy, that’s for sure – comes through into this dimension through a wurmhole thing like a hideous metaphorical scene for rape, to kill everyone?
I initially groan when I realize that the author is doing the reality TV thing, because that one is so tired and played out by now, but fortunately, the author gets the reality TV thing down pretty well. Most authors have no clue what they are writing about, and I’ve read some in which the author clearly confused a scripted TV show for a reality TV series, but here, the things are done right, with one glaring exception: the very lax security that allows contestants to go in and out. Still, I can overlook that as the rest is very entertaining.
The whole thing works because the author allows Verity to shake off the usual baggage that bogs down many female urban fantasy protagonists. She is married to Dominic now, and Dominic, bless him, is happy to play second fiddle and let Verity do her job. No Curran-like twatwaffles here – the man is content to let the females lead when it is clear that they know what they are doing and they are the best ones for the job. Therefore, Verity doesn’t have to agonize about whether she is living up to his standards or whether it is time to make a magic baby – her eyes are on the job, so let’s get down to business. I really like this.
As usual, there are the appearances of a variety of urban woo-woos, and there’s this cynical chupacabra that steals the show. Grandma Alice is fabulous too, I don’t mind reading some spin-off with her one day. The Aeslin mice continues to be developed into something more than comic relief – here, they show signs of great cunning and usefulness, and it becomes increasingly clear that, despite their worship of all kinds of things that would normally make them punchlines, these little buggers can cut where it hurts the most if one isn’t looking too hard.
The pacing is great, and I also like the underlying dark tinge to the whole humorous sarcastic vibe of the story. This story is dark, because in the end, Verity can’t save any one of the those she sets out to protect. There is some pretty good coming-of-age moments – not too much, but just enough – of Verity finally makes a decision about her responsibilities as a Price verusus her dreams of being a dancer after some soul searching, and these moments add a layer of poignancy and even humanity to the whole story. As for Dominic, I’ve always found him boring, but here, he’s sweet as the supportive and protective hubby who is secure enough to let the wife do her thing without trying to take over. If he keeps this up, I may even like him in the future.
There is just one thing that keeps this book from being that book with me – the last few chapters. It is as if the author suddenly realized that she had not many pages left to play, so she rushes the story into an abrupt denouement. The villain decides to make a public reveal, as if that villain is bored of waiting for Verity and her allies to catch up, and that villain’s identity feels like a cop-out as that one turns out to be such a stereotypical “twist”. All the efforts made by Verity and allies come to nothing because the villain just shows up and goes MUAHAHAHA HERE I AM, LET THE SLAUGHTER BEGIN. The pay-off doesn’t feel so good as a result.
The ending scene before the final chapter is cool though, really cool.
I confess that I was feeling that the series was running out of steam after the previous book, but Chaos Choreography basically kicks me in my non-existent nuts and demands that I pay attention to it again. It’s a great and very entertaining read, and most importantly, it has me looking forward for more. That’s what any good urban fantasy book in a series should be doing, and this one does everything it sets out to do with panache and style.