Monday, January 29, 2024

Microreview: Aftermarket Afterlife, by Seanan McGuire

Where previous novels were (mostly) focused on a single character and a relative discrete story that gradually expands the scope of this Incryptid world (which is our world, only there are magical creatures living around us and with us and hiding from us), Aftermarket Afterlife starts to blow up that formula. The novel is focused on Mary Dunlavy, a sometimes corporeal ghost and family babysitter (with a somewhat complicated backstory that is really changed by the Antimony novels).

Here’s what you need to know: There has been an ongoing and building fallout over the last few novels with The Covenant of St George (an organization of humans dedicated to eradicating the aforementioned supernatural creatures) after Antimony really pissed them off. This is after her older sister Verity let the Covenant know there were still Prices still around. Aftermarket Afterlife is an explosive novel - and that’s not even counting the return of Alice and Thomas to the family (see Backpacking Through Bedlam) after decades of Thomas being presumed dead. McGuire seldom lets her characters just sit in a moment without blowing something up. Or maybe it’s the readers who want more - but Seanan McGuire is a propulsive writer.

Seanan McGuire has been building to the Price family finally going to war with the Covenant. Or, more specifically, the Covenant is going to war with the cryptids of North America and with the Price family. Aftermarket Afterlife is for the long time readers (this is book thirteen in the series) who have been wondering when all of that mess is going to come to a head.

The choice of Mary as the focus is an interesting one as it continues the trend of the last four novels of allowing a small sense of distance from the core family while, at the same time, allowing for a wider breadth of family interaction. From Discount Armageddon through That Ain’t Witchcraft each novel has focused on one of the siblings of the youngest generation of Price children and their interaction with this world. That narrow focus would, perhaps, only mention the actions or existence of that character’s siblings. So - if this is an Antimony novel, there would be limited mention of Verity or Alex. Same with Verity or Alex’s novels, respectively. Even the Sarah Zellaby or Alice novels were limited in scope to the perspective of that character in that particular place.

Mary Dunlavy is necessarily different because she can ghost-travel to whichever family member calls for her (and sometimes if they don’t) - so even with a slight emotional distance, which is a statement that isn’t entirely accurate but is the best that I have to work with, we get so much more of the Price family than we have at any other time in the series. Mary can and does bounce between Verity in New York, Alex in Ohio. and Antimony in Oregon. The scope of the war with the Covenant can be shown beyond phone calls of an action that we don’t get to see because it’s somewhere else. Functionally, Mary can be everywhere and McGuire makes good use of Mary as plot device.

If most of this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, that is because McGuire is pulling a LOT of threads together and really assumes that readers are well familiar with the first twelve books of the series. I have no idea what it looks like jumping into this fresh to the Incryptid series and even though Seanan McGuire is frequently very good at introducing and reintroducing characters and story beats and dropping exposition, Aftermarket Afterlife truly requires the emotional equity of having been on this Price Family Journey.

With all of that said, for those readers who have been on this Price Family Journey, Aftermarket Afterlife absolutely delivers the goods. The awkward and painful reunions are earned, the desire to take the fight to the Covenant is earned, and the ultimate resolution of the novel is absolutely earned. Seanan McGuire has been building to all of this and she truly pays it off - and there is certainly going to be more, which makes me incredibly anxious and I cannot wait to read what’s next.

Joe Sherry - Senior Editor of Nerds of a Feather. Hugo and Ignyte Winner. Minnesotan.