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Middlegame

Review

Middlegame

It is an unusual story, but not unheard of: twins, separated soon after birth and adopted into different families, growing up unaware of their sibling. Writers, of both fiction and nonfiction, have found much to mine in this tale. Alex, Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Seanan McGuire’s latest novel, MIDDLEGAME, takes the separated twins narrative in new and fantastical directions. It follows Roger and Dodger, a brother-and-sister set of twins, created by a shadowy, secret and incredibly powerful cabal of alchemists. There is the manipulation of time and nature, mysterious mind connections, questions of life and death, an examination of the meaning of family and much more, all wrapped up in McGuire’s beautiful and strange prose.

In the fall of 1886, Asphodel Baker --- beloved children’s author and member of the American Alchemical Congress --- builds a boy named James who will grow up to be the alchemist to create Roger and Dodger. The twins are part of a program envisioned by James Reed to begin humanity’s voyage to the Impossible City. They are just one set of twins made for Reed’s purpose and watched over by his violent and sadistic sidekick, Leigh. Each set of twins --- Roger and Dodger being no exception --- divides the world into language and math, boiling reality down to its essence, incarnating a concept called the Doctrine of Ethos into physical form. The alchemical part of MIDDLEGAME, Asphodel and Reed’s actual powers and intentions, is never quite clear. But McGuire’s writing style is so strong and interesting that plot holes and some world-building weaknesses are easily forgiven.

"It is imaginatively conceived, carefully constructed, fantastically written and offers such thoughtful insights on themes like love, power, sacrifice and intelligence."

One spring evening in 1993, seven-year-old Roger Middleton is struggling with his math homework when he hears a girl’s voice in his head giving him the answer. Thus Roger meets Dodger, and the two begin a lifelong journey to understand their seemingly telepathic connection, their biological relationship, and their place in a world that is not at all what it seems. Over the years, the two rely on each other emotionally but periodically pull apart, both for emotional and physical safety. Their lives are intertwined in undeniable ways, what they call their quantum entanglement; by design, they are meant to work together and balance each other. But their pairing is volatile and threatens Reed’s work.

The twins walk the path, usually unknowingly, toward the Impossible City and the destruction of the world. The crisis has been avoided and time reset a number of times with the help of another product of Reed and Leigh’s lab, Erin. Having lost her own twin, Darren, she is tasked with watching over and spying on Roger and Dodger. However, her loyalties are torn between Reed and his alchemical goals and her affection for the twins and hope for the world.

It is difficult to summarize a book like MIDDLEGAME. It is imaginatively conceived, carefully constructed, fantastically written and offers such thoughtful insights on themes like love, power, sacrifice and intelligence. Roger and Dodger are compelling and fully human as children and young adults, navigating the world as often lonely prodigies. They are fascinating and fearsome as mighty, dynamic and preternatural pawns in an ultimate struggle. When the story and context falter a bit, McGuire’s characters --- the twins and Erin --- do the heavy lifting and keep the novel fun and engaging. The paths and multiple timelines of Roger and Dodger weave in and out and move toward the inevitability that McGuire sets up at the start of the book.

Overall, MIDDLEGAME is another delightful and captivating outing from Seanan McGuire.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 17, 2019

Middlegame
by Seanan McGuire

  • Publication Date: May 7, 2019
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Tor.com
  • ISBN-10: 1250195527
  • ISBN-13: 9781250195524