Half-off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire–Monsters and Mystery

GameStop, Inc.

Half_off_RagNarok_Seanan_McGuire“I’m not saying that it’s a horrible monster here to mercilessly devour you whole. I’m sure it would chew you first.”

The prologue epigraph up there is an accurate indicator of the book to come. Half-off Ragnarok is funny, sometimes violent, fast-paced, offbeat, and full of strange creatures, some of whom are monsters.

Alexander Price is busy studying the spread of friggens, a kind of feathered frog, while tending the reptile house at Ohio’s West Columbus Zoo with his assistant, a Pliny’s Gorgon (there are a few different kinds in this world). He is also managing a hidden basilisk breeding program, letting a young girl in to meet her fiancé (who just happens to look like a cobra), and trying to keep his girlfriend, who has a few secrets of her own, from finding out about any of the stranger parts of his life. Then someone murders one of the zoo staff, partially petrifying him in the process. Since there are several different species capable of killing through petrifaction, Alex has his work cut out for him figuring out just who or what did the killing and whether he is going to be called on to relocate a wild and potentially dangerous animal or hunt down a criminal. If the perpetrator turns out to be intelligent, there is also the question of whose jurisdiction he or she will fall under.

McGuire handles the plot deftly and with humor, introducing a variety of new and fascinating species gleefully as the plot unfolds. It seems that not only are all of the creatures you may ever have read about in myth or bestiary real, there are also appropriate variations and subspecies. Not only are gorgons real, they come in three varieties. Gryphons come not only in the eagle-lion variety but also a number of others. Alex, for example, has a Church gryphon, which is something of a cat-crow mix (I want a cat-crow for a pet! Why aren’t the around?).

The characters are also-developed with quick, small touches to develop their characters as the plot moves forward. Alex Price’s family is as varied and wonderful as the rest of the world. His grandfather is a revenant (see Frankenstein’s monster for the type); his grandmother is a telepathic parasite (only not a nasty sort); cousins, aunts, and uncles vary in species and character. What does hold true is that they are all family, and they support one another.

McGuire also weaves a mean mystery, providing both clues and red herrings with aplomb. She plays by the traditional mystery rules even while writing a hybrid urban fantasy-mystery. And, as I mentioned earlier, there is plenty of humor, generally in the form of wry asides by the narrator.

Although Half-off Ragnarok is the third book in the InCryptid series, it is easy for a newcomer (like this reviewer) to step in without reading the prior books; there is enough detail provided about the Price family worked in to the plot, and although there are references to previous events, the mystery here is self-contained.

I leave you with one final bit of advice from the novel: “Never surprise any member of a venomous species with a home visit. It’s not only rude, it’s potentially hazardous to your health.”

The InCryptid Series:
Discount Armageddon
Midnight Blue-Light Special
Half-Off Ragnarok
Pocket Apocalypse, estimated publication date March 2015

There are also several short stories available for free on Seanan McGuire’s website.

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