Book Review: Spelunking Through Hell (InCryptid, #11) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Spelunking Through Hell
Series: Incryptid, #11
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: March 1, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Now in trade paperback, the eleventh book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Love, noun:

1. An intense feeling of deep affection; may be romantic, filial or platonic.

Passion, noun:

1. A strong or barely controllable emotion.

2. Enthusiasm, interest, desire.

3. See also “obsession.”

It’s been fifty years since the crossroads caused the disappearance of Thomas Price, and his wife, Alice, has been trying to find him and bring him home ever since, despite the increasing probability that he’s no longer alive for her to find. Now that the crossroads have been destroyed, she’s redoubling her efforts. It’s time to bring him home, dead or alive.

Preferably alive, of course, but she’s tired, and at this point, she’s not that picky. It’s a pan-dimensional crash course in chaos, as Alice tries to find the rabbit hole she’s been missing for all these decades—the one that will take her to the man she loves.

Who are her allies? Who are her enemies? And if she manages to find him, will he even remember her at this point?

It’s a lot for one cryptozoologist to handle. 

It’s almost spring, and that means it’s time for another installment in the ongoing adventures of the Price-Healy family… yes, another InCryptid book is here! (Annoying some fans by switching to trade paperback size rather than sticking with mass market… so now my paperback editions won’t match??? But that’s beside the point when it comes to a review, so onward we go.)

The InCryptid series follows the adventures of the sprawling Price and Healy clan, a large extended family dedicated to studying and preserving the lives of cryptids — non-human beings who (usually) live peacefully among the humans, but who are hunted by the merciless and powerful Covenant simply for existing. Yes, there are also cryptids who do unpleasant things like eating humans, and in those cases, the Prices are a force to be feared… hence their very murdery reputation.

Up to now in the series, the books have focused on members of the current young adult family members — siblings Verity, Alexander, and Antimony (Annie), as well as their cousin Sarah. There are plenty of references to other relatives, and their parents and other cousins and family-by-extension pop in and play different roles as well. One of the more mythological members of the family, whom we’ve seen in action really just once so far, is grandmother Alice.

Now look at the book cover image again. That’s Alice! Does she look like a grandma to you?

Alice was a young woman in the 1950s, which is when she lost her beloved husband Thomas to a bad bargain with the crossroads. Granted, he made the bargain to save Alice’s life, so he deserves a little slack for having made it. From the time of Thomas’s disappearance, Alice has been obsessed with finding him — so much so that she’s spent over fifty years as an interdimensional traveler, tracking down every clue and random hint that could possibly lead her to her husband.

Of course, to do so, she’s had to leave her family behind, so her two children resent the hell out of her and her grandchildren know her more from the family legends than from actual relationships… but she can’t give up. Along the way, she has used whatever means necessary to preserve her youth and health so that she could keep going, which is why she looks and feels more or less like a 19-year-old.

All that is backstory. Here, in Spelunking Through Hell, Alice is the main character, and we join her on her desperate journey to find Thomas. It’s been 50 years, and her hope is starting to wear thin. At this point, she’d even accept proof of his death — she’s just about ready to stop. But then a new clue from an unexpected source gives her one more angle to try, and so she sets out one last time to travel to a dying dimension that’s supposedly inaccessible… but Alice is nothing but persistent.

And so what if she doesn’t have an exit strategy? So long as she finds Thomas — even if he is about 80 years old by now — they can figure out what comes next together.

Spelunking Through Hell is yet another fun romp with the Price clan, although we really don’t see many members of the family other than Alice. This makes the tale fresh, but also feels somewhat less engaging, since Alice has never been a main character before and there isn’t a ton to build on in terms of what we know about her or what it’s like to see the world through her eyes.

Like the rest of the Prices, Alice is always fully armed, ready for a fight, and full of quips. She’s funny, fierce, and reckless, and also has no problem pushing herself past injury and excruciating pain, so long as it’s in service of her obsession with finding Thomas.

The plot occasionally feels a little draggy — it does take quite a while to get to the target world — and while I enjoyed the book, I have to say that my lack of familiarity with Alice as an individual made this book slightly less wonderful as a reading experience as compared to earlier books in the series.

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.

That said, I did enjoy the book overall, and Seanan McGuire’s writing keeps it fun even while the blood is flowing:

And I, an asshole, had done enough woolgathering for one… day? Evening? Afternoon? There were no windows, and massive blood loss always throws off my sense of time.

I’d rather be married to a man fifty years older than I am than see him go through what I’ve willingly done to myself for his sake, what he never would have asked or expected me to do. It’s always easier to set yourself on fire than to allow someone else to burn for you.

I wanted to avoid being caught at any cost, since one solid snap of those claws could have me down a limb, or possibly down an entire torso. I like my torso. It’s where I keep my lungs.

The Haspers not currently engaged began to run in my direction, forming a nicely unified pack. I like a unified pack. I like the way is splashes when you lob a grenade into the middle of it, and I like it even better when none of its component parts knows what a grenade is, so they react like you’ve just thrown a rock or something. To be nonspecific.

Spelunking Through Hell includes the bonus novella And Sweep Up the Wood, which tells the story of a key turning point in the early years of Alice and Thomas’s relationship. It’s very good and very emotional (plus, you know, plenty of guns and explosives — after all, Alice in involved), and it’s a great way to wrap up this installment of the series.

The InCryptid series itself is going strong, and overall, I love it! I do wish this one had drawn me in a bit more, but I can’t really complain. The Price-Healy clan is amazing (and there are religious mice, who make every scene they’re in 1000% better), and I can’t wait for more of the story. The big question is — who will #12 be about?

As I’ve said in pretty much every review of this series, definitely start at the beginning with with Discount Armageddon. This series is full of great characters and terrific world-building. It’s easy to get hooked!

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Book Review: Calculated Risks (InCryptid, #10) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Calculated Risks (InCryptid series, book #10)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: February 23, 2021
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The tenth book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Just when Sarah Zellaby, adopted Price cousin and telepathic ambush predator, thought that things couldn’t get worse, she’s had to go and prove herself wrong. After being kidnapped and manipulated by her birth family, she has undergone a transformation called an instar, reaching back to her Apocritic origins to metamorphize. While externally the same, she is internally much more powerful, and much more difficult to control.

Even by herself. After years of denial, the fact that she will always be a cuckoo has become impossible to deny.

Now stranded in another dimension with a handful of allies who seem to have no idea who she is–including her cousin Annie and her maybe-boyfriend Artie, both of whom have forgotten their relationship–and a bunch of cuckoos with good reason to want her dead, Sarah must figure out not only how to contend with her situation, but with the new realities of her future. What is she now? Who is she now? Is that person someone she can live with?

And when all is said and done, will she be able to get the people she loves, whether or not they’ve forgotten her, safely home?

It’s that wonderful time of the year… when we get another InCryptid book! Calculated Risks is #10 in this ongoing urban fantasy series, and it does not disappoint in the slightest. Really, you could look at Calculated Risks as #9, part II, since the action picks up right where the previous book, Imaginary Numbers, left off.

Books 9 & 10 focus on Sarah Zellaby, a non-human member of the extended Price-Healy family, who are renowned cryptozoologists and deadly enemies of the all-powerful Covenant. There’s a lot to know about the Price family, which is why anyone new to the InCryptid series absolutely must start at the beginning. There’s just no way for these books and the complex relationships between the characters to make sense without the full picture and backstory.

Here in #10, our main character Sarah finds herself in a strange alternate world, along with her cousins Annie and Artie, her kind-of cousin James, and a cuckoo, Mark, who is of the same species as Sarah. Got that? Sarah has inadvertently transported all of them, as well as the college campus they’d been standing on, to another dimension, as a last ditch effort to stop the world from being destroyed as the side effect of Sarah undergoing a mathematically based metamorphosis. It’s complicated.

Now, in this weird world, Sarah’s allies don’t know who she is and treat her with suspicion. The sky is orange. There are huge flying millipedes. And indignity of all indignities, Sarah doesn’t even have a bra! Still, it’s up to Sarah to convince her friends and relatives that they know her, that they don’t want to hurt her, and that she is likely the only person who can get them home again.

The adventure rips along at a super-charged pace, but we also get lots of emotional moments too as Sarah faces distrust and rejection from people she’s loved all her life. The challenge of getting home again relies on Sarah’s ability to carry out a dangerous equation that can rip through worlds, and to do it without killing herself and everyone around her.

As always, Seanan McGuire’s writing is funny, quirky, clever, and highly quotable:

“I have so many knives,” said Annie. “I am the Costco of having knives. You really want to provoke me right now, cuckoo-boy?”

“I am not a good place to store your knives,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I need to tell you this, but sticking knives in living people just because they say something you don’t like is the reason no one likes you or the rest of your fucked-up family.”

“I don’t want to be a monster. I refuse to be a monster. I am a person, and people get to make our own choices about whether or not we bare our claws.”

“Mean girl from the murder family has a point,” said Mark. “Also, now that I have spoken those words aloud, please kill me.”

Do not be afraid.

I hate it when people tell me not to be afraid. They never do that when something awesome is about to happen. No one says “don’t be afraid” and then hands you an ice cream cone, or a kitten, or tickets to Comic-Con.

Calculated Risks is just as much fun as the preceding books in the InCryptid series. I love that the main characters in the series shift between different family members as the books go along, and I can’t wait to see who the star of #11 will be (although — sigh — that’ll be a long year from now). Meanwhile, between familiar Price characters, Aeslin mice (a sapient species of talking mice who worship the Prices as deities), and new friends (like Greg, the humongous leaping spider who becomes Sarah’s protector), there’s plenty here to love and enjoy.

Calculated Risks includes a bonus novella, Singing the Comic-Con Blues, which is a light-weight, upbeat adventure set nine years before the events of the main novel. It’s sweet and entertaining, and is a nice little treat for dessert after some of the more dire events of Calculated Risks.

The InCryptid series continues to be fresh, exciting, and full of surprises. Seriously, if you’ve never read these books, start at the beginning (with Discount Armageddon) — I’ll bet you’ll be hooked before you even finish book #1. As for me, I’m tempted to go back to the beginning, just to have the pleasure of experiencing the bonkers adventures of the Prices all over again.

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Book Review: Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid, #9) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid series, book #9)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: February 25, 2020
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Won in a Goodreads giveaway!
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The ninth book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Sarah Zellaby has always been in an interesting position. Adopted into the Price family at a young age, she’s never been able to escape the biological reality of her origins: she’s a cuckoo, a telepathic ambush predator closer akin to a parasitic wasp than a human being. Friend, cousin, mathematician; it’s never been enough to dispel the fear that one day, nature will win out over nurture, and everything will change.

Maybe that time has finally come.

After spending the last several years recuperating in Ohio with her adoptive parents, Sarah is ready to return to the world–and most importantly, to her cousin Artie, with whom she has been head-over-heels in love since childhood. But there are cuckoos everywhere, and when the question of her own survival is weighed against the survival of her family, Sarah’s choices all add up to one inescapable conclusion.

This is war. Cuckoo vs. Price, human vs. cryptid…and not all of them are going to walk away.

It makes me so happy to have a new InCryptid book in my hands, especially since I won this one in a Goodreads giveaway, which pretty much never happens for me!

In Imaginary Numbers, the ongoing InCryptid series turns to two new point-of-view characters, Sarah Zellaby and Artie Harrington. Sarah and Artie are both members of the sprawling Price-Healy clan, a group of cryptozoologists dedicated to protecting non-human species from the persecution of the deadly Covenant, and equally dedicated to protecting humans from the deadlier of cryptid species. To that end, the Prices are all highly skilled with weaponry of all sorts, learning to become excellent shots and to throw knives with precision from childhood.

Sarah is the first non-human main character in this series. She’s a cuckoo, the common term for Johrlacs, which are a human-appearing species that are more or less descended from telepathic wasps. Cuckoos are apex predators. They can take over anyone’s mind and make them do whatever they want, and the effects can be fatal. Sarah was adopted into the Price family as a child, and so was raised with a different set of influences than a typical cuckoo, making her more aware of her responsibility to respect others’ boundaries and giving her a deep, true love for her family. As well as a different and very strong love for her cousin Artie, which the two of them have been too shy and awkward to ever acknowledge.

In this book, Sarah’s return to the family compound after a lengthy recovery from injury brings the attention of unknown cuckoos, who want to use her for their own purposes, and don’t care who they have to kill to make it happen. The action is intense and fast-paced, with a plot that’s occasionally confusing but always fun.

The InCryptid books tend to be a little less dire than Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, which regularly rips out my heart. This series is generally light-hearted, not that there aren’t perilous situations and heartbreaks here as well. Still, with a family that includes a sorcerer whose boyfriend is a human-sized monkey, a grandfather who’s patched together from dead bodies, and a time-traveling grandma who appears to be in her teens, things can’t get all that serious for too extended a time.

The author’s trademark quippiness and cleverness is on full display in Imaginary Numbers:

It wouldn’t stop the cuckoos on the lawn from pouring into the house if they got the signal — it would barely even slow them down — but every little bit helps when you’re going up against telepathic killers from another dimension.

… [T]hat made it better than standing around waiting for the invisible floor to drop out from under my feet and send me plummeting into the void. I am not a big fan of plummeting. If I had to commit to a position, I’dd probably have to say that I was anti-plummeting.

“She seems nice.”

“No, she doesn’t,” I said. “She seems like an unstable old lady who somehow keeps aging backward, and who carries grenades that are older than I am way too frequently for comfort’s sake.”

Normal people get meet-cutes. I get crime scene cleanup.

Imaginary Numbers ends with a sort-of cliffhanger — the main plot is resolved, but ends up dumping a few key characters into a brand-new situation in the last lines… and I’m dying to know what will happen! It sounds as though the next in the series, Calculated Risks, will pick up where this one leaves off. Too bad we have to wait a year for it!

As an added treat, Imaginary Numbers includes a bonus novella, Follow the Lady, which takes place chronologically between books 8 and 9. It’s fun, not earth-shattering, and a nice way to de-stress after the high-pitched excitement at the end of Imaginary Numbers.

This series is a delight, and I’ll echo my previous advice to start at the beginning. These books do not work as stand-alones, not if you want to have any hope of getting what’s going on and the complex, convoluted family trees. All of the InCryptid books are fast reads, so even though this is the 9th book in the series, it really won’t be too hard to catch up.

I love these books! Check ’em out.

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