Published by Tor.com on May 7, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Seanan McGuire’s latest novel Middlegame is a very ambitious novel. It reads like equal parts science fiction and fantasy, and is a wild ride from start to finish. It features twins separated at birth who somehow have the ability to telepathically communicate with one another, as well a man who wants to use the twins to help him carry out his ambitious and perhaps delusional plan to become a god and control the universe. If that isn’t enough to pique your curiosity, Middlegame also features alchemy, time loops, and its fair share of ruthless killers.
This was my first time reading one of McGuire’s novels, but after seeing so many stellar reviews for the author’s Wayward Children series, I fully expected to love Middlegame. That said, however, I unfortunately didn’t love it nearly as much as I was expecting to. I can’t put my finger on exactly why it wasn’t a great read, but part of it was because I just felt like I had to work way too hard to keep everything that was going on straight in my mind. The plot is very complicated and twisty, and then time starts to twist as well, which made everything all the more complicated, and at a certain point, my brain just screamed “Enough!” On top of that, I felt like the pacing was slow in places which didn’t help since the book is over 500 pages long.
That said, however, even though I didn’t love the read because it confused me a few too many times for my liking, there were quite a few things I did enjoy.
I love how wild and original the overall concept of the novel is. On one level, it reminds me of Frankenstein, with James Reed using his alchemical skills to create children that can help him achieve his goal. His actions and motivations are unnatural and more than a little creepy, but yet fascinating at the same time. On another level though, Middlegame reminds me of nothing I’ve ever read before. The idea of this Doctrine of Ethos being the key to controlling the Universe and that Reed can somehow harness its power and become a God if he places half of the doctrine in each child just blew my mind. Reed was a disturbing yet almost mesmerizing character just because he’s so passionate that his goal is 100% achievable and is clearly totally okay with the idea of using his homemade children as science experiments and with eliminating anyone or anything that happens to get in his way.
While I found Reed completely disturbing, I found the other main characters, twins Roger and Dodger, quite endearing, especially the connection they shared. The implanting of half the Ethos Doctrine in each of them has left Roger as a master of all language and communication, while Dodger is an absolute genius at math. There is literally no math problem she can’t solve. Put them together and they’re pretty much unstoppable. As soon as they are “born,” Reed separates them. He has several sets of twins that he’s experimenting with so this “separation” variable is specific to Roger and Dodger’s experiment. Except that they somehow manage to connect telepathically even though they live thousands of miles apart. No matter how many times they get re-separated, they manage to find each other again.
Even though I felt frustrated and confused sometimes by everything that was going on in Middlegame, that bond between Roger and Dodger is what really kept me turning the pages. I was just so invested in them and ultimately wanted them to realize they were pawns in Reed’s deadly game and somehow turn the tables on him and stop the madness.
While Middlegame wasn’t a book that I loved, I did enjoy the read overall and would definitely recommend it to fans of science fiction and really to anyone who enjoys a wild and twisty read that makes you put on your thinking cap. It has also intrigued me enough about McGuire’s unique brand of storytelling that I definitely plan to read the Wayward Children series.
Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.
Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.
Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.
Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.
Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.