Book Review: Indexing by Seanan McGuire
Have you ever wished you could have a fairy tale life? Be the hero of the story, vanquish evil, gain true love and live happily ever after? Well, the Narrative is here to help! It loves shoehorning people’s lives into the shape of fairy tales. Of course, there’s no guarantee it will slot you into one of the good roles. And have you ever noticed how much death and misery is in your average fairy tale? Plus, trying to make real life mimic magic has its limitations, often lethal ones.
And that’s where the ATI Management Bureau comes in. Using their knowledge of the Aarne-Thompson Index to Motifs in Folk Literature to spot the Narrative trying to break into reality as we know it, the ATI agents try to thwart the worst effects of the stories on innocent bystanders. The focus is on the field team led by Henrietta “Henry” Marchen, who is trying to avoid going full Snow White. She’s assisted by Sloane Winters, an obnoxious woman who has averted the Evil Stepsister role only by not having any family; Jeffrey, the team archivist (who has an affinity for shoes) and Andy, the team normal who handles social interaction.
There’s been a sudden spike in Narrative incursions lately, in particular ones that look like one fairy tale only to morph into more deadly ones. The team is forced to take on a new member with Pied Piper abilities to solve a case, but then the hits just keep on coming. Pretty soon it becomes obvious that the Narrative has a mole inside the Bureau itself!
Seanan Mcguire is the author of the October Daye and Incryptids urban fantasy series, as well as writing horror as “Mira Grant.” This book was her first try at writing a Kindle serial, with chunks published online every two weeks. (There’s also a sequel.) “Fairy tales are real” is a hot concept in recent years, with the long-running Fables comic book series, the television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time and a fantasy series I forget the name of set in “The Realms” and having a very similar premise to Indexing.
There are some cool twists to the concept–every time a new adaptation of a fairy tale comes out, it adds variations that the Narrative can use. Thanks, Disney! Literary fairy tales with known authors like Peter Pan count too. Also, the Narrative has figured out how to change up the casting, for example putting a male character in the “Little Mermaid” role. And then there’s what Henry realizes about the roots of the Snow White story….
This is not, however, the author’s best work. She was not used to working in serial form, and it shows. In particular, the chapters repeat basic information over and over on the assumption that the reader might not have read the previous part, or at least not remember the details. This is most notable in the first half of the book. On the other hand, it’s interesting watching Ms. McGuire improve as the story goes on. (I personally would have re-edited the book to eliminate redundancy as was the custom with fix-up novels of the past, but that’s just me.)
Most of the characterization goes to Henry and Sloane, with Demi (the Pied Piper) woefully neglected for much of the book. Sloane’s battle to be wicked but not outright evil is the most enjoyable character arc.
If you’re familiar with fairy tales, you are aware that they often have dark content–there’s suicide, and rape is mentioned, in addition to the usual murder and maiming. I’m just glad “Manyfurs” and “How the Children Played Butcher” weren’t referenced.
Again, not the author’s best work, but entertaining and worth reading if you’re a fan of dark fairy tales.