A Deliciously Dark Portal Fantasy: “Middlegame” Review

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Official Summary

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.

My Thoughts

How do you explain a book that is so inexplicable, but in the best way?  Everything about this book— from the plot to the characters to the writing— worked for me. I am so glad I gave Seanan McGuire a second chance because it led me to discovering this wonderful story. Absolutely superb, you funky little writer.

I’ll be the first to admit this book isn’t for everyone. It has a very slow pace and doesn’t spare many details on what’s actually going on. But somehow McGuire makes it work. She leaves just enough breadcrumbs for the reader to slowly piece together the bigger picture, while also keeping you in the dark just enough. In many ways, it leaves the truth of the improbable road and the Impossible City up for interpretation. Not in a lazy way, but in a metaphorical way.

And, really, what grabs the reader are the characters. Roger and Dodger are both so deeply flawed, but so deeply lovable. Their relationship is much the same. It’s been a long time since I read a sibling relationship I care about this much.

What’s more, the two of them fight against stereotypes in many ways. In a world where STEM is a male-dominated field, it’s refreshing to see Dodger be the math genius. She’s also allowed to be harder than many female characters, preferring equations to most people. Roger, on the other hand, is softer than most male protagonists are allowed to be. His core self is rooted in meaning and understanding. I would argue that Roger and Dodger each fulfill the role you’d expect of the other.

The most notable of the other characters are equally as intriguing. Erin is nearly an antihero, toeing the line between Reed’s minion and the twins’ friend. Speaking of Reed, his ambition is nearly frightful in how intense it is. But it’s his human moments that really make him scary. He has a level of devotion to his progenitor that is unreal. Leigh is perhaps the most fearsome, being murder incarnate. Not quite Reed’s lackey, Leigh is willing to do anything to achieve her ends. Together they make a pretty daunting Team Evil.

Though I must confess, my review title is a bit of a misnomer. Middlegame itself isn’t a portal fantasy, but it’s based on one. Portal fantasy plays a pivotal role in the plot. It’s just that Roger and Dodger don’t travel to another world.

The plot is more focused on Roger and Dodger’s life story than anything action-packed. And yet, that’s not totally true either. Like I said, the whole thing is hard to explain. Essentially, Roger and Dodger spend the whole book preparing for the climax, even if they don’t know it.

The crème de la crème, however? McGuire’s writing. I read Every Heart a Doorway a few years ago and thought it was all right. But I knew deep down that her writing and ideas would work better in a longer form novel. I was correct. Not only does this story work so well as a full-length novel, but McGuire penned some beautiful turns of phrase here. My breath caught more than once over her phenomenal use of metaphor and attention to detail. I would die for McGuire’s prose, whether in her story or her story-within-a-story.

Seanan McGuire is a well-loved author in the book community and I finally understand why. While I know this book won’t be for everyone, I also know it’s very much for people with similar taste to mine. Middlegame is gritty and dark, an unflinchingly honest tale about family and ambition. This novel hurts so good and I’ll never be the same for having read it. Middlegame and I are locked in a quantum entanglement from which I never want to be free.

My Rating


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let’s have a discussion in the comments!

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3 thoughts on “A Deliciously Dark Portal Fantasy: “Middlegame” Review

  1. Pingback: July 2019 Wrap-Up

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