“Never underestimate the power of a good story.”
Good advice…especially when a story can kill you.
For most people, the story of their lives is just that: the accumulation of time, encounters, and actions into a cohesive whole. But for an unfortunate few, that day-to-day existence is affected—perhaps infected is a better word—by memetic incursion: where fairy tale narratives become reality, often with disastrous results.
That’s where the ATI Management Bureau steps in, an organization tasked with protecting the world from fairy tales, even while most of their agents are struggling to keep their own fantastic archetypes from taking over their lives. When you’re dealing with storybook narratives in the real world, it doesn’t matter if you’re Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or the Wicked Queen: no one gets a happily ever after.
Indexing is New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s new urban fantasy where everything you thought you knew about fairy tales gets turned on its head.
Indexing is a fun take on a dangerous situation — memetic incursions, in which fairy tale narratives intrude into the real world, activating people into playing out their pre-programmed stories with potentially disastrous results. A Sleeping Beauty stumbles into a metropolitan hospital, and suddenly everyone in the facility is plunged into a deep sleep. Snow Whites have a hard time avoiding poison, and a wise Snow White will never, ever eat an apple. A Pied Piper with a flute in her hands can wreak havoc simply by playing the right song.
It’s up to the field team at the ATI Management Bureau to head off these incursions and keep the world safe (and happily ignorant) from the narrative’s dangerous intrusions. The main character is Henrietta Marchen, better known as Henry, who is a not-yet-activated Snow White — and yes, that means that she has skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood, which in real life makes her look pretty scary as opposed to Disney-princess adorable. Henry’s team includes Sloane, a decades-old evil stepsister who seems to forever be a petulant teen, Jeff, the team archivist who’s also a part of the shoemaker and the elves narrative, and PR dude Andy, who isn’t touched by the narrative at all (although he does have a close encounter with a Frog Prince).
The plot takes the team through a variety of emergencies, where they rush in to save the world from the weirdly dangerous fairy tales that pop up with increasing frequency. It’s up to the team to figure out why the incursions are happening at an unusually high rate. Someone is messing with the narrative itself, and if they can’t find and stop the perpetrator, reality itself is doomed.
Indexing is quite an enjoyable read. Despite the fairy tale subject, it’s a gritty urban fantasy, with bloody deaths and salty language. (My favorite is when Sloane, abrasive and obnoxious but loyal in her own caustic way, refers to Henry as “Snow Bitch”.) The memetic incursions are always surprising, as the author takes classic fairy tales and makes it plain just how deadly their effect could be if transposed to the modern world and set loose.
Narrator Mary Robinette Kowal does a great job of capturing the personalities of the main characters such as Henry, Sloane, and newbie Demi, although she struggles to do convincing male voices. You know how some audiobook narrators can convey both genders in such a way that you absolutely forget that you’re listening to a woman doing a male character or vice versa? That doesn’t happen here. I found it a bit distracting whenever the narrator would lower her voice for the portrayals of Jeff and especially Andy — they sounded artificial, and it consistently took me out of the story.
That said, the narrator’s version of Henry was excellent, especially when Henry’s inner Snow White takes the lead. Just by the voice, you can absolutely tell which part of Henry’s personality is dominant at the moment. And I loved her nasty Valley Girl voice for Sloane — so offensive and pissed off, really pretty perfect.
The plot of Indexing does take some puzzling through, as the concept of the narrative isn’t always entirely clear. The explanations of various occurrences and their resolutions are occasionally overly convoluted, and I felt the world-building could have used just a smidge more fleshing out.
All in all, though, Indexing is really a fun experience, and listening to the audiobook kept me engaged and entertained for all the hours I spent with it. I’m looking forward to starting the sequel!
Author: Seanan McGuire
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publication date: May 21, 2013
Length (print): 420 pages
Length (audiobook): 12 hours, 5 minutes
Genre: Urban fantasy