I was a little worried about Seanan McGuire’s Half-Off Ragnarok, the third book set in the InCryptid universe, departing from Verity Price and New York. That didn’t stop me from picking it up on preorder and download it into my Kindle even though I was on vacation and wouldn’t have much time to read.
I lucked out and had an unexpected whole day to myself, and pretty much devoured this book. Instead of Verity, we have older brother Alex in Ohio, as well as cousin Sarah who came home from New York after the conclusion of Midnight Blue-Light Special (the second book in the InCryptid series, which started with Discount Armageddon).
Note: I would say this review contains spoilers up to Midnight Blue-Light Special, but as it isn’t anything that wasn’t hinted about in the back cover of Half-Off Ragnarok, it’s a pass.
What do gorgons, basilisks, and frogs with feathers all have in common? They’re all considered mythological by modern science, and some people are working very hard to keep them that way. Alexander Price is a member of a cryptozoological lineage that spans generations, and it’s his job to act as a buffer between the human and cryptid worlds—not an easy task when you’re dealing with women who has snakes in place of hair, little girls who may actually be cobras, and brilliant, beautiful Australian zookeepers. And then there’s the matter of the murders…
Alex thought he was choosing the easier career when he decided to specialize in non-urban cryptids, leaving the cities to his little sister, Verity. He had no idea what he was letting himself in for. It’s a family affair, and everyone—from his reanimated grandfather to his slightly broken telepathic cousin—is going to find themselves drawn in before things get any better.
In this book, we meet a completely different cast of characters. Well, almost. The only person we’ve met with any length of time is Sarah. Aside from them, the cast is rounded out by Angela, Verity and Alex’s grandmother; Martin, their grandfather; Dee, Alex’s Pliny’s gorgon assistant, and Shelby, a naturalist and big cats expert visiting from Australia. With an (almost) all-new cast, Half-Off Ragnarok does have that “first book in a series” feel to it, at least in terms of acquainting oneself with the characters and getting a feel for them. It’s hard not to love anyone from the family tree, but outside of that, Dee, Shelby and the rest of the supporting characters round out the cast nicely and I just love them for their badassery, whether obvious or understated.
Alex is noticeably the oldest Price sibling in terms of personality and thought process, helped along with his being a self-pronounced science geek. He introduces us to the “science rules” for the Aeslin mice:
I waited for them to calm down before I said, “This is for science. Science rules will be in effect during the work.”
“Science rules” was dealing-with-the Aeslin shorthand for “no rejoicing, no dropping what you’re working on to race off and join a spontaneous parade in honor of the Violent Priestess, no asking complex theological questions when you’re supposed to be focusing on your job.”
But that doesn’t mean this book is lacking in terms of action and excitement: there’s plenty of that, a veritable plethora of reptilian cryptid. The book opens with Alex and Dee battling a lindworm, after all. That sets the tone pretty nicely, even if Half-Off Ragnarok reads a little tamer than Verity’s volumes.
This might be due, in part, to the “villain reveal” being equal parts unexpected and, personally, of a lesser grade than previous books. I’m not saying the villain isn’t deadly–because they are, and you don’t quite know if everyone will pull through–but it doesn’t feel like their background was built up enough over the rest of the book. It’s realistic, but almost anticlimactic. That said, I think the last book’s villains are a pretty difficult act to follow, so I’m not sure if that has played into my expectations for Half-Off Ragnarok.
What I liked best about this book, however, is the closer look I got into the family dynamics. Alex is staying with his grandparents during the book to help out with Sarah, and we see them all throughout. The four’s interactions are refreshing, ringing with sincerity. And they are badass. They’re worth every word on the page.
What’s particularly poignant for me, as well, were the scenes with Sarah, seeing her struggling, and her family struggling with her. I went over her scenes multiple times while reading, almost reverently. The prose is perfect, the treatment gentle and gripping at the same time.
There’s one more thing that I noted in particular: Half-Off Ragnarok feels “broader” than the previous two books. Verity’s volumes almost feel like they were living in a vacuum, that it was one girl’s fight: it all revolves around New York, even if events there would have spiraled out and have great consequences outside. But here, we’ve got open areas, wider plains, a cryptozoologist studying the effects of cryptid and known species cohabiting in the world. With Half-Off Ragnarok, this became something that everyone in this world has a concrete stake in. The Price family is not alone.
Half-Off Ragnarok differs in tone from Verity’s dance-of-death books, but it’s both a deeper and wider look into the world that they inhabit, with amazing new characters to love and lots of opportunities for badassery. If you like the worldbuilding Seanan McGuire had going for InCryptid, if you adore the Price family (and how can you not?), you can’t miss this.