I’m re-listening right now to one of those things that Seanan McGuire does so ever well: she takes a familiar story and make it fresh. (Next on my re-listen list is her Sparrow Hill Road series of Sparrow Hill Road and The Girl in the Green Silk Gown in which she takes on the urban legend on the ghost hitchhiker in most unique manner.) I first read the Indexing series as novels when they came out some six years ago and then listened to it a few years later. Now being home confined due to three knee surgeries, I’m doing a lot of audiobooks and this was a series I wanted to revisit while working on other things.
Indexing was initially released in episodes as a Kindle Serial, so it’s in essence a patchwork novel though honestly that doesn’t show as much here as it does in some other novels I’ve read where that’s been the case. I think Sparrow Hill Road was also released in the same manner as the author often does this. Like many modern authors, she releases her fiction first to her subscribers or to programs like the Kindle Serial program before it goes to the general reading public.
So the premise here is that all fairy tales are true. As McGuire puts it on her website, ‘It’s all true. Fairy tales are deadly. The brave agents of the ATI Management Bureau put their lives on the line every day to keep fairy tales from manifesting in our world…because once they begin, they will not stop until they achieve their idea of happily ever after. They don’t care how many bodies this leaves in their wake.’
The Indexing stories are centered around a small number of agents using the the Arne Thompson Index, all of whom are averted stories, including Henrietta Murchen, one in a very long line of would-be Snow Whites, who is the leader of the team that keeps these fairy-tales, which are memetic incursions, from developing into a full blown story. This tale was told like a collection of short stories (which it originally was) but at the same time McGuire has a somewhat overarching story line as well. Another character is Sloan, who is the wicked step sister to Henry’s good girl Snow White character.
The tone is light-hearted as you can see in this passage as Henrietta is waking up: ‘My day began with half a dozen bluebirds beating themselves to death against my window, leaving little bloody commas on the glass to mark their passing. The sound eventually woke me, although not before at a least a dozen of them had committed suicide trying to reach my bedside. I sat up with a gasp, clutching the sheets against my chest as I glared at the windows. The damn things had been able to get past the bird-safety net again, and I still couldn’t figure out how they were doing it.’
So what you get is an intersection of fairy tales as Rapunzel and Little Mermaids, government agents akin to the Men in Black, though decidedly less high tech in their approach to defusing incursions (Sloan defuses one such incident by showing an adolescent boy her tits) and a lot of amusing interpersonal conversation among the agents. McGuire really does the Holy Trinity of background details, character development and story better almost anyone else I know who’s writing this sort of, oh, I suppose you could call it urban fantasy, though I think that’s stretching it quite it bit so I’m calling it contemporary fantasy.
(Audible Studios, 2014 and 2016)