Title: Backpacking Through Bedlam
Series: Incryptid, #12
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publication date: March 7, 2023
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Seanan McGuire’s New York Times-bestselling and Hugo Award-nominated urban fantasy InCryptid series continues with the twelfth book following the Price family, cryptozoologists who study and protect the creatures living in secret all around us.
1. The state of being united again.
1. An act of reconciling, as when former enemies agree to an amiable truce.
2. The process of making consistent or compatible.
3. See also “impossible.”
Alice Price-Healy gave up her life for fifty years to focus completely on the search for her missing husband. The danger of focus like that is that it leaves little room for thinking about what happens after…and now that she’s finally managed to find Thomas, she has no idea what she’s supposed to do next. The fact that he comes with a surrogate daughter who may or may not have some connection to Alice’s recently adopted grandson is just icing on the complicated cake.
So the three of them are heading for the most complicated place in the universe: they’re going home.
But things on Earth have changed while Alice, Thomas, and Sally have been away. The Covenant of St. George, antagonized by Verity’s declaration of war and Sarah’s temporary relocation of an entire college campus, is trying to retake North America from the cryptids and cryptozoologists who’ve been keeping the peace for the past hundred years. And they’re starting in New York.
Alice and company have barely been back for an hour before the Ocean Lady and the Queen of the Routewitches are sending them to New York to help, and they find themselves embroiled in the politics of dragons, kidnappings, and of course, the most dangerous people of all: family.
Getting “back to normal” may be the hardest task Alice has undertaken yet.
The InCryptid series is a big, sprawling, interconnected story about the varied and sundry members of the Price/Healy clan — humans (mostly) who specialize in cryptozoology, the study and preservation of non-human people who live among us here on Earth. The arch-enemies of the Price gang (and all non-human species) is the Covenant, a powerful organization dedicated to hunting down and eliminating all cryptids — ostensibly to protect humans, but really, at this point, it’s more from deeply ingrained hatred and a desire to rid the world of everything non-human.
The InCryptid series unfolds in waves, sort of, with different books in the series focusing on different family members — including siblings Verity, Alex, and Antimony, their wild adventures, and also their love lives. By book 12 in the series, we’ve shifted focus a few more times, and Backpacking Through Bedlam is the second book in a row starring Alice, the family’s grandmother (who appears to be about 20, not her actual 80-something years).
Backpacking Through Bedlam picks up the story where it left off in book #11, Spelunking Through Hell. Alice has spent the past 50 years searching alternate dimensions to find her beloved husband Thomas, who was stolen away from her after a disastrous deal with the crossroads. In book #11, the pair was finally reunited, and here in #12, the story continues with their journey home.
It’s not all smooth, and they have a humanitarian sort of mission to accomplish first, but they do eventually make it back to their secluded home in Michigan… only to be summoned moments after arrival to come help their granddaughter Verity in New York.
Alice and Thomas and their surrogate daughter Sally are immediately shoved into danger, as Verity and her family are busy trying to protect a nest of dragons from very persistent and deadly field agents sent by the Covenant. There’s no time for a family reunion — Alice is forced to pretty much instantly start fighting her way through the tunnels of New York to save the day.
All this to say, it’s another fun adventure in the InCryptid world, with the Price family protecting those in need and taking the fight to the bad guys.
It’s entertaining and also moving to see Alice and Thomas reunited with their grandchildren. The family as a whole has mixed feelings about their long-lost grandparents, since Alice essentially abandoned her own children 50 years early, leaving them to be raised by trusted friends, in order to pursue what everyone believed to be a hopeless quest to find her husband.
Now they’re back, but it’ll be a while before they can truly be part of the family again, and maybe even longer before Alice and Thomas can let one another out of arm’s reach without feeling the awful fear of another impossible separation. I love the family and relationship dynamics in these books even more than the action sequences — although those are great too.
Backpacking Through Bedlam has a bit of a slow start, but once the travelers land back in our own dimension, the story and pace pick up quite a bit.
In the previous book, it was a little jarring to focus on Alice, since we’d barely spent time with her up to that point. Now she feels more like a main character, and I enjoyed seeing her and Thomas reestablishing their lives together.
I have the same complaint about Backpacking Through Bedlam as I did with Splelunking Through Hell — there’s a lot of assumed knowledge about the characters’ backstories and the family history. Here’s what I mentioned in my review of #11, and it still holds true:
Side note on InCryptids: This is a huge expanded world, and it’s supported by many, many short stories available through the author’s website and via Patreon. That’s nice… but also frustrating. Apparently, if I’d been keeping up with all the Price short stories, I would be very invested in Alice and Thomas and would know pretty much everything about their courtship, romance, and early years together. But I haven’t! And that feels problematic for me. Yes, I can make an effort to go get caught up (and I probably will, once I figure out the order the stories should be read in) — but I do think the books alone should tell a complete story, and in this case, I felt like I was always missing key pieces of information.
There are SO many short stories that the author has written about Alice’s parents and grandparents. In Backpacking Through Bedlam, Alice refers quite often to her parents’ marriage, her own youth, and earlier generations too — but those aren’t details we have any way of knowing just from the main series. It’s frustrating, and I don’t particularly have the patience to go read every story on Patreon. Here’s hoping Seanan McGuire will some day collect all of these tales and put them into an all-in-one edition — that would be something I’d happily pick up.
Overall, though, Backpacking Through Bedlam continues the InCryptid series with the author’s signature quirky writing, funny dialogue, and plenty of hidden weaponry. I do love these characters, and will keep reading books about the Price family for as long as the author keeps writing them.