Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.
I have been on a journey with this book! It became my number one book I need in 2019. I mean, between the author, the quote above (which isn’t from the book but is SO GOOD), and the HAND OF GLORY COVER, I needed this book. I searched NYCC for ARCs, but if there were any, I had to work during the time. I actually ended up winning a physical ARC from 24in48! only to have it stolen because UPS sucks. Thankfully Tor is amazing and sent me an e-ARC after this happened. I have devoured it slowly, reading it between other books as I try to keep my vow of being on time with ARC reviews. So thank you Tor, Netgalley, and 24in48 for a copy of this book. It in no way influenced all the raving I am about to do.
by Seanan McGuire
Published Date: May 2019
Read Date: May 2019
Format: ebook ARC
Genre: Fantasy, urban fantasy (maybe?)
Page Count: 528 Pages
Rating: 5/5 Moose
James Reed, the “descendant” of Asphodel Baker is as skilled at alchemy as his creator was. But he craves more power and to control the universe. He wants to control the Doctrine of Ethos. In doing so, he creates Roger, who is good with words and can understand the world through story, and Dodger, who can break the world down to its mathematical components. They’re twins, not quite human, but not quite Gods either. Separated for most of their life, the two set out on a journey they aren’t quite prepared to survive.
Roger Middleton – Raised in Boston, Roger is the embodiment of the side of the Doctrine focused on words and language.
Dodger Cheswich – Raised in South California, Dodger is the embodiment of the side of the Doctrine focused on mathematics.
James Reed – a hundred plus year old alchemist set out to control the Doctrine of Ethos. Also a creation himself.
Erin – Dodger’s college roommate
Rants, Raves, and Thoughts
Where to start with this book? While I think that McGuire’s work is usually accessible to everyone, I can see this one as requiring me to say “I love this book BUT…” when I recommend it. This came to my attention when one of my favorite reviewers rated this book fairly lowly (2 stars). I was heartbroken, as we tend to line up on how we feel about most books. Thankfully, this is one we disagree on.
This book is told in a disjointed timeline. It opens up to “Timeline: five minutes too late, thirty seconds from the end of the world” and then skips back to 1886, then 1986 — all in mere pages. It takes a little while to get used to this and to understand why it’s happening.
Secondly, this book is a slow moving train. We start with Roger and Dodger as children, meeting at the age of 7. Well, “meeting,” I guess, as they are chatting telepathically across the country. This is after the opening “prologue” called FAILURE where we seeing Dodger dying. It’s uncomfortable, it is jarring, and personally, I loved it.
Throughout the entire novel, typically towards the end of a “book,” there are quotes from a children’s series that I will admit I had to google to see if it was real. (As someone who got into Animorphs hard and young, I know there are so many children’s books I missed out on that I need to go back and read.) We get quotes about the Improbable Road and the Impossible City with Zeb and Avery, all taken from From Over the Woodward Wall by Deborah Baker. These quotes are obviously supposed to parallel Roger and Dodger’s ventures, and strikingly resemble Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland in their whimsy and tone. (Which may be why I had to google it — it was too familiar to be faked to my silly brain.)
Here in the Up-and-Under, we’re both things at once, always, and we’re never anything in-between…
What I love about this book is how it breaks down time and how someone can view the world. I have an almost equal love of maths and language — both just more than a shallow interest, but neither too deep I suppose. Still, the combination of the two is what made me excited about this book, and I think McGuire uses both to build a world that is real feeling. Time travel is possible — of course it is, you just have to find the right equation! I do think the maths is emphasized more than the language side, but not to a detriment. Dodger is the more fascinating character anyways. She’s tormented by her genius, unable to blend into society like Roger is. It leaves a fear that she isn’t as important, that she’s being left behind somehow. And this fear is crucial to her personality, to her character, and is the basis on if Roger and Dodger will succeed or not.
He’s just a dream that almost killed her, and she can’t fall asleep again. Not when she’s come so far.
And really, it is the relationship between Roger and Dodger that I love. They’re supposed to be two parts of a whole, and it reflects in how similar yet different they are. Roger is able to fit in, have friends, date, give off the appearance of a life outside of his genius, while Dodger is all consumed by numbers and solving maths. She’s more reserved, more walls, more alone. Does this mean she relies on Roger more than he on her? If you ask Roger, not at all. But I am not sure, honestly.
I don’t know too much about the Doctrine of Ethos (prior to reading this book, I just knew it somehow related to music theory – thanks high school band maybe?) and doing some research, there isn’t a direct Wiki page really to even start researching from. Based on the novel I assumed there were three sets of opposites for it: Maths vs Words, Chaos vs Order and……what’s the third? This is why I started searching for clarification. (My confusion lies in that there were three sets of twins created at one time – Roger and Dodger being one set.) However, it basically is the idea that the force behind music can control what type of person you can turn into. While this has been discussed as good vs evil, it does appear originally that it may have referred to logical vs emotional — which supports how McGuire uses the concept in her book. Maths (logical) — it cannot lie, it cannot trick. Words (emotional) — they frequently stand for what they don’t actually mean.
No, silly, this is math. Math is never a trick. Math never plays tricks. Sometimes it makes problems, but they always have solutions. Not like stupid English.
This book, like so many that I love, isn’t for everyone. You have to be willing to step outside the real world and stand in the Up-and-Under to appreciate it, and be ready for everything you’re experiencing to go away in a white light. At the very least, you get a mathematician who has an absolute love of Ian Malcolm that everyone should have. I almost regret not studying Chaos Theory now.
Even if this book isn’t for you, give McGuire a try. She’s currently writing a few Marvel comics, she writes fantasy and horror (frequently under Mira Grant), and I think she’s diverse enough that everyone will find something of hers to love.