Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deeper down the rabbit hole

Since it seems that my December is Fairy Tale month for me, I finally finished Indexing by Seanan McGuire. (Keep in mind I'm also reading the latest Fables compilation, Camelot.) (I also thinks this gets me current on Ms. McGuire, so maybe she'll quit taking up so much space on this blog for a while.) (And that's not a complaint. I enjoy her writing.)

Anyway, before really getting into the book, let me see if I can't summarize the world a bit. Throughout time, different narratives try to influence reality as we know it, usually taking theform of fairy tales. In modern times, more than a few examples of modern folklore (urban legends) creep in as well. A government organization uses the ATI (Aarne-Thompson Index) to figure out which narrative is infecting a person and work to stop it before it tries to reach a "Happily ever after". Because Snow Whites generally don't survive long in Glass coffins, and Sleeping Beauties tend to wake up after 100 years and die of old age.

Our main narrator through most of the book is one Henrietta Marchen, whose mother was a Sleeping Beauty who gave birth to a Rose Red and a Snow White. Henry is the Snow White of the pair, with black hair, pale skin, and red lips. Unlike Disney's version, this Snow White is rather hard boiled. She's the Field Team leader over a team that includes a Wicked Stepsister (Sloane), a Cobbler (with no elves)(Jeff, who works as the archivist), and a man who's sister got sucked into the narrative and wound up finding the bureau trying to figure out what happened (Andy). In the first chapter, they end up activating a Pied Piper (Demi) to wake up a Sleeping Beauty who they think was a Snow White at the outset. (In this case, the narrative used a variable to make the enchanted sleep happen via virus. The Pied Piper (or in this case flutist) treats the virii as vermin and pipes them out.

As the book progresses, we get deeper and deeper into the narratives and variations, particularly when we find the big bad out about halfway in (Mother Goose, who can stretch narratives to suit her needs, although too much stretching can cause them to snap).

There are notes at both the beginning and end about how Indexing started off as a short story that then developed into a Kindle Serial Novel, that in turn can now be had as a full novel in digital and paperback. This process shows, particularly early on, since the chapters are a bit disjointed, and it doesn't really start gelling as a connected narrative of its own until about the time Mother Goose shows up halfway through. (It could technically be argued that without a Mother Goose to collect the tales in one volume, they remained disjointed, but...) (Really, to use a metaphor that most of my readers won't particularly understand, the difference between the first half and the second half is a bit like the difference between Season 1 of Babylon 5 and Season 2 of Babylon 5. The disjointed nature also sets up the fantastic and much more complete second half.)  There's also a small issue with Henry's brother showing up towards the end, then vanishing from the book entirely while the climax happens, even though he's supposedly still in the damn location where the finale happens.

On the other hand, McGuire's use of GLBT folks is refreshing in fantasy. Andy has a husband, and also gets stuck in a version of "The Frog Prince" at one point. Henry's brother started off as her sister, and is terrified that if the narrative decides he's going to be activated as rose Red, he'll lose the life he worked so hard to build. And there's a Little Mermaid who might have been a Beast who inspired a Facebook status from me. (In a nutshell, his parents died in a car accident that left his little sister in a wheelchair, but able to swim. It left him disfigured. He got miraculous plastic surgery that also destroyed his larynx. His prince rejected him for being mute and therefore a "cripple".)

Another very bright spot in all of this is towards the end when Henry's narrative goes active, poison and all, and we go from Fairy Tale into Joseph Campbell. While not quite as in depth as Campbell goes, it's still a fairly good summary of the monomyth, giving readers who haven't jumped feet first into Campbell enough to go on to make sense of it all.

While this may not be her best work (it's narrative reminded me quite a bit of her Sparrow Hill Road), it's not anything near a bad read at all. Well worth picking up and spending some night reliving childhood memories in an adult setting.