Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night…
The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity – and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…
With machetes, ballroom dancing, parkour, romance, and oodles and oodles of snark, Discount Armageddon is a smorgasbord of fun. It’s six parts Buffy, one part Princess Bride, with a generous sprinkle of Strictly Ballroom on top - or that’s the closest I can come to describing it, anyway. I chortled, snickered, and at times laughed out loud while reading Discount Armageddon – not to mention I’m a huge parkour and martial arts fangirl, so the action was exactly my cup of tea – and I finished this book with a huge, rather silly grin on my face. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve enjoyed a new UF series this much.
First off, if you know anything about Seanan McGuire, you know she loves biology the way Scrooge McDuck loves gold. And while there have been many an Urban Fantasy about fantastical creatures who live hidden among us, never have you read one built so lovingly and creatively along Darwinian lines – in this book, the creatures are so wonderfully weird, and yet still totally scientifically viable. McGuire’s world is populated equally by creatures entirely of her own invention (the Aeslin mice are ridiculously awesome, but I admit it was the Waheela who stole my heart), and by creatures who at first sound familiar but then quickly prove themselves to be anything but – even iconic monsters such as gorgons and dragons are revitalized by McGuire’s particular brand of weird quirks, fun modern twists, and wonderfully detailed biology. And yet all that detail reveals itself effortlessly through Verity’s loving snark and zeal for all things cryptozoological. All in all it makes for a world that is downright impossible to resist.
As for Verity Price herself, not only is she hilarious, but there’s also something deliciously subversive about her. Let’s face it, when it comes to UF heroines, they tend to come in standard packaging: leather wearing, tough-talking chicks who have “I can kick your ass” virtually tattooed across their foreheads. Verity, on the other hand, cheerfully drives her stiletto heels through that endemic paradigm (you can judge this book by its cover), and it makes for ridiculous fun. I mean, who expects a hot blonde who seriously loves ballroom to be a cryptozoologist? And how can you resist a girl who knows exactly how to conceal her firearm and assorted knives in her skimpy ballroom dancing costumes? At first blush, Verity would easily be categorized as “girly” – she spends most of the book in minis that would make any Gossip Girl proud – but she totally subverts all the expectations that come with said packaging. Which is totally awesome.
Which brings me to the tone of this book, which is undeniably light. Seanan herself put it this way: “I base my seriousness scale – the Mira Grant stuff is a 10, I walk away from those books kind of shaking and I need a week in Disneyworld. The Toby stuff is a 6 or 7, they’re good, they’re fun, but they’re occasionally depressing. And then Incryptids are just there to kick you in the head.” I would even go so far as to say there’s a delightful dusting of, for lack of a better word, camp, to this story – though there were a few moments that felt just a hair too over the top, for me (one particular fight scene to music springs to mind) (not to mention the slightly ridiculous thoroughness of the Price family training regime), but you can hardly fault a book for so gloriously being exactly what it was intended to be: a light, almost pulpy, snarky adventure tale that is just downright fun to read.
As for the romantic end of things, the genesis of Verity’s attraction to Dominic (aka The Love Interest) did feel a bit abrupt to me, but things developed nicely from there. I particularly liked the ways in which Verity challenged Dominic’s beliefs – I thought their clashes over politics/religion had a very authentic flavor – and it made for a nice tension between them. Though I will say the conclusion felt perhaps a tad foregone.
In the end, I had a blast reading this book. With feisty characters, smooth plotting, and action and snark to spare, this series is off to a rollicking start. You really can never go wrong with Seanan McGuire (or Mira Grant, for that matter).
Byrt Grade: A
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
People. People, listen. Look, this is a really good book. I’m just going to say that I just about loved it to pieces, like the kinds of pieces one gets when they hug something breakable with super human strength and, oh, oops, there I went and broke that awesome thing. Guess it’s a good thing this wasn’t on the Kindle, then. Paperbacks are actually pretty forgiving when it comes to ridiculously overzealous hugs.
Discount Armageddon is the lightest of Seanan McGuire’s books, but that’s not to say it’s fluffy. The fate of the world is at stake, or at least that of New York City, and the action and humor are balanced quite well. While I was reading the ending, I alternated between chewing my lip nervously and laughing so loud I was worried I’d wake my husband.