Title: Seasonal Fears
Series: Alchemical Journeys, #2
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publication date: May 3, 2022
Length: 496 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Melanie has a destiny, though it isn’t the one everyone assumes it to be. She’s delicate; she’s fragile; she’s dying. Now, truly, is the winter of her soul.
Harry doesn’t want to believe in destiny, because that means accepting the loss of the one person who gives his life meaning, who brings summer to his world.
So, when a new road is laid out in front of them—a road that will lead through untold dangers toward a possible lifetime together—walking down it seems to be the only option.
But others are following behind, with violence in their hearts.
It looks like Destiny has a plan for them, after all….
Seasonal Fears returns to the complicated world of alchemy made real first explored in the author’s 2019 novel Middlegame. In Middlegame, the story centered on Roger and Dodger, two people with an inexplicable connection who come to embody the living personifications of Math and Language.
In Seasonal Fears, alchemists are once again at work, and the impact on the main characters is huge. Melanie has been frail since birth, with a severely damaged heart, a lifetime of illness and medical treatments, and slim chances of living past her teens. But her best friend since kindergarten (and later, her boyfriend) Harry will never give up on Melanie. He loves her; she loves him. Her death may be inevitable, but he’ll never leave her for as long as she remains alive.
Meanwhile, we learn early on that the seasons themselves have living personifications — humans who come to embody Winter and Summer through a complicated and usually bloody coronation process. Alchemists have been aware of Winter and Summer kings and queens for centuries, but it’s only in modern times that they’ve tried to steer the process by creating the perfect vessels for the seasons in their labs.
As Melanie and Harry prepare to attend their high school Valentine’s Day dance, they both undergo a shocking process and learn that their destinies lie beyond tragic high school romance tropes. Accompanied by their Attendants, they start a journey toward the coronation of the seasons, each a candidate for becoming a season Incarnate.
Sound complicated? It is.
Seanan McGuire is an absolute favorite author, and I love her writing style, her characters, and her snark. But here in Seasonal Fears, these factors often become overshadowed by the incredibly confusing plot elements. The seasons, the embodiment of alchemical doctrines, the impact on the natural world, the coronation process… it’s a lot, and I often simply could not wrap my brain around the overarching concepts.
That said, the plot does zip along, with moments of horrific violence as well as quieter moments of emotional connection and elements of wonder and magic. Still, this is a big, dense book, and I’m not sure that the whole ends up being greater than its parts. Also, the end felt strangely anti-climactic.
Apparently, if the series continues, there’s an intention for there to be five books in total. Right now, having finished Seasonal Fears, the idea of continuing seems exhausting. Ask me again, though, when the next books comes out! Since I do tend to read everything this author writes, there’s a good chance I’ll have recovered enough by then to keep making the effort with these alchemical stories.