Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Discount Armageddon" by Seanan McGuire-- Light Urban Fantasy Done Right

Verity Price was raised as a Cryptozoologist-- someone who studies non-human creatures known as cryptids. She knows all about bogeymen, chupacabras and ghouls, though she'd rather be dancing the rumba. Verity negotiates a compromise with her family that allows her to live in New York City and pursue a ballroom dancing career as long as she agrees to monitor the local cryptid community.

And life in New York is certainly interesting for Verity. Between living in a barely-legal sublet, owned by a Sasquatch, to working as a cocktail waitress in a cryptid strip-club, she just manages to squeeze in enough time to prowl the rooftops and watch over the local cryptids. What little time she has left, and it isn't much, is used for her beloved dance competitions.

But the delicate balance Verity has managed in her life comes to a screeching halt when she encounters a member of The Covenant. Many generations before Verity was born The Price family split from The Covenant over a difference in how to treat the cryptid community: the Prices believe in living in harmony with them while The Covenant believes they should all be destroyed. And if butting heads with The Covenant isn't enough, there are also rumors of something big, very big, living in the sewers of New York -- and cryptids are disappearing in large numbers.

I've been hearing good things about Seanan McGuire for awhile and Discount Armageddon proves that McGuire is a writer that only gets better with each book. When I first read the description for "Discount Armageddon" I wasn't sure about the idea of a heroine who happens to be infatuated with ballroom dance, but it's a idea that works surprisingly well. Verity has an unusual upbringing as someone who grows up in a family of experts on monstrous creatures and is trained to defend herself from childhood. Unlike her siblings, who demonstrate a love of bombs and booby-traps practically from infancy, Verity learns to incorporate her love of dancing into her martial-arts training-- and as a martial artist who has preached for many years that dancing and fighting are very complimentary I heartily approve of this particular plot point.

But Verity's dancing is only a small part of a particularly well constructed story. I love the concept of a community of creatures, known as cryptids in this case, that live alongside an oblivious humanity. It's not a new idea but the mythology here is done so well. McGuire takes urban legends, fairy tales and her own creations and melds them into a fresh, fun concoction. And creatures that we think we know, like the Gorgon or the boogeyman, are tweaked just enough to put them into the story as secondary characters and it works.

And critiques I have for "Discount Armageddon" are really minor. The main one would be that the initial antagonist in the book, the member of The Covenant that Verity meets, isn't really antagonistic enough.  He and Verity have a believable chemistry but I think I would have liked to see a little more of the push-and-pull that comes with that particular story line--the moment when he must challenge his inbred loyalties is a bit anticlimactic because he never appears to fight them that hard.

But as a work of light paranormal fiction "Discount Armageddon" is a nearly perfect example of what the genre should be. The world that is constructed here is nicely complex without being overly complicated. The characters, especially Verity, are well developed and convincingly original and there's never that moment where you feel bombarded with names or struggle with remembering who's who. The story moves briskly with lots of humor thrown in but the balance of action is right on the money and McGuire proves adept at making sure the story never gets too busy. Even the romance angle is well integrated and never steals too much from the overall narrative. If you're a fan of urban fantasy that is light on the angst and drama and strong on action and fun, then I can easily recommend "Discount Armageddon."

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Blodeuedd said...

Since I like book 1 in her other series then yes I gotta check this one out :D

drey said...

I like action and fun, and love Seanan McGuire's October Daye series, so will def be picking this one up! Thanks for the heads-up! :)

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Chupacabras are so popular. I've seen them in Bones, in Supernatural, and in one other series. It's funny you mention it here. It's kinda like mermaids and vampires!

SQT said...

@Blodeuedd-- I don't think you'll be sorry.

@Drey-- You're welcome. :)

@Michael-- I wouldn't say they're popular just because they pop up here and there-- they are a part of urban legend and I don't think they've even come close to be as overused as vampires. Like everywhere else they're mostly mentioned here but not used as a huge part of the story.

Elfy said...

I was kind of initiated into the InCrytpid world and concept by being a regular reader of Seanan's blog, so when I read Discount Armageddon I had some knowledge, but she pulled it off so very well. It's a great first entry to what I hope will be a long running series.

animewookie said...

Since this new word verification my comments haven't been posting ;<
So, here we go again. After realizing how pitiful my list of favorite female characters was, I thought that Verity might be right up my alley. She might just have the strength to hold up :D

Charles Gramlich said...

Verity Price. What a name!

SQT said...

The names are great! She has a sister named Antimony-- I love it.

A Question Of ITIL said...

Great writer!
Please give her support with the Amazon situation!
<a href="http://upcoming4.me/media-news/book-news/item/8747-amazon-ignores-street-date-for-discount-armageddon>Seanan McGuire Upcoming4.me</a>

Alice Keezer said...

I felt like this really hit the ground running. It caught my attention from the start, and kept it.

I figured Dominic was so little threat because he was so sheltered. The Covenant didn't expect him to run into a Price (or is it a front?), so they didn't prepare him for the possibility of an alternate world view. Of course, Thomas didn't fare too well against them, either, but we don't know how much of a fight he put up.

I can't wait for more people to read this so I can talk to them about it.

SQT said...

Alice-- I would like to know more about Dominic and The Covenant-- fodder for the next book!