When Verity Price came to New York, she was given a year to make up her mind: did she want to follow her dreams as a professional ballroom dancer, or follow the family tradition as a cryptozoologist? Unfortunately, when passions and duties collide, you don’t always get to choose the option you like. More and more, she’s been called upon in the latter role, both protecting and hunting the cryptids of New York as the occasion demands. And as that year draws to an end, she’s about to face the roughest challenge of her career.
It starts when Verity’s boyfriend Dominic tells her that his own bosses, the Covenant of St. George, have dispatched a team to check on his work. Problem 1) When the Covenant shows up, cryptids die. Problem 2) The Covenant regards Verity’s family as traitors to the human race, and thinks they’re all dead. If they show up and find Verity and realize just who she is…things could get really ugly.
Now Verity has to protect the cryptid population from a group of hardcore, old-school monster hunters, while maintaining her own cover, even as she questions just how far she can trust Dominic, who has to choose between the infuriating woman he loves and the role he was literally born to play. When everything goes horribly wrong, it’s not just Verity who will be pushed to her limits. Her cousin Sarah, a telepathic cryptid known as a cuckoo, will also be called upon as never before. Maybe Verity should have stuck to dancing….
The second in McGuire’s InCryptid series (following Discount Armageddon), Midnight Blue-Light Special drives Verity’s story ahead at warp speed, pushing the dancer/cryptozoologist into some dark and exciting places. She’s tested physically, mentally, and emotionally, and forced to deal with some pretty intense stuff, taking stock of her life and everything she’s learned. McGuire’s never shied away from putting her characters through the wringer, and this book is no exception.
As always, there’s a lot to enjoy in this book. McGuire draws from mythology, both established and of her own design, to populate the series with a wide variety of fascinating and entertaining creatures. Naturally, the breakout favorites are the Aeslin mice, talking rodents with a passion for religion, capable of turning anything and everything into a celebration or a ritual. However, a close second may be Istas the waheela, a cryptid capable of turning into a wolf-bear-dog monster. She’s overly fond of carnage and inappropriate footwear and little hats, a Gothic Lolita who throws manhole covers and doesn’t quite grasp sarcasm. And then there’s Sarah, whose telepathy makes her everyone’s best friend…when they’re not absolutely terrified of her. Honestly, one of McGuire’s strengths is in making even the background characters interesting and memorable.
And the world-building. While on some levels, this really is just another urban fantasy, of the kitchen sink variety, where everything’s real and hidden just around the corner, she infuses it with a lively sense of wonder and fun that elevates her secret world to something both accessible and different. She eschews the usual vampires and werewolves for much weirder offerings, such as the Filipino manananggal or the Indian Madhura. Throw in assorted dragons, gorgons, boogeymen, and so on, and you have a unique mixing pot of cryptids to play with.
Now, if McGuire has any flaws, it’s that she’s prone to finding a shtick and running with it until the horse is well and truly dead and beaten. There’s only so many times you can hear about Istas’ love of carnage or Sarah’s unusual upbringing, or the Aeslin mice and their love of ritual, after all. Part of it seems to be a genuine fondness for certain favorite phrases, character quirks, or recurring themes, but part of it seems to be an underlying fear that the audience has an extremely short memory…or possibly needs things explained in explicit detail. This can result in a reader nodding and going “Yes, yes, we get it, Verity’s a badass and Dominic considers her to be an infuriating woman.”
But far be it from me to complain too much about getting too much of a good thing. Because when you boil this down to the essentials, it’s a remarkably enjoyable series, and rapidly becoming one of my favorites. Keen characterization, a rich and weird world full of nifty critters, plenty of action, even an underlying sense of humor that serves to defuse the darker twists, this book has all of the right elements. McGuire’s definitely got the makings of pure gold here, with her tale of a monster hunter who just wants to dance, and the talking mice she keeps in her closet, and all of her bizarre friends and family. I think that if she ever gets to the point where she trusts the readers enough that she doesn’t have to repeatedly force-feed them the details, she’ll be unstoppable. (Well, okay, she already is unstoppable, but you know what I mean…)
All that aside, Midnight Blue-Light Special is fun. Even in the darkest moments, when Verity is dealing with ruthless enemies and fighting for her life, when good people are making desperate choices, there’s that sense of whimsy, of magic, of joy, which makes this a book, and a series, well worth checking out. I can’t wait for the next installment.
Mid-Night Blue Light Special is published by DAW. It is available now.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Roanoke, VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who occasionally steals whatever he’s reading. He is the editor of the recently-released anthology, Scheherazade’s Façade. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf.