Book Review: “Calculated Risks,” by Seanan McGuire


Hello all! Is this what vacation feels like?! I forgot the weird exhilaration of being off from work for any length of time. I am, in a word, loving it. For this week, I plan on reviewing so many books that have been sitting in the “Read” pile, unreviewed and seemingly unloved. Calculated Risks, book ten in Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, was at the top of this list. I love all things Ms. McGuire, and this series brings me great joy. I even got to ARC read book eight in this series, That Ain’t Witchcraft, a couple of years back, and more recently the newest installation of the October Daye series (book fourteen!) So I can only hope to do Calculated Risks justice. Without further ado…


From the Publisher:

The tenth book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Just when Sarah Zellaby, adopted Price cousin and telepathic ambush predator, thought that things couldn’t get worse, she’s had to go and prove herself wrong. After being kidnapped and manipulated by her birth family, she has undergone a transformation called an instar, reaching back to her Apocritic origins to metamorphize. While externally the same, she is internally much more powerful, and much more difficult to control.

Even by herself. After years of denial, the fact that she will always be a cuckoo has become impossible to deny.

Now stranded in another dimension with a handful of allies who seem to have no idea who she is–including her cousin Annie and her maybe-boyfriend Artie, both of whom have forgotten their relationship–and a bunch of cuckoos with good reason to want her dead, Sarah must figure out not only how to contend with her situation, but with the new realities of her future. What is she now? Who is she now? Is that person someone she can live with?

And when all is said and done, will she be able to get the people she loves, whether or not they’ve forgotten her, safely home?


What I Loved:

  • The Science/Fantasy Combination. One of my biggest gripes about the fantasy genre besides tropes is the general belief that readers will swallow anything hook, line, and sinker. What I love about the InCryptid series, and most especially in Calculated Risks, is that the supernatural beings are generally explained as genetic species, the Prices are primarily scientists who are “in the know” and cryptozoology, and all of the characters are constantly trying to find the “why” of everything, even when the thing isn’t explainable. This attitude is on full display here, when Sarah, Annie, Artie, James, and Mark are stranded on a literal other planet, and Annie and Artie immediately begin cataloguing what they know and what they can hypothesize. Oxygen? Check. Gravity? Check. Three suns and giant flying insects? Can be described by X, Y, or Z, and we will find out more. Is it still wildly improbable? Of course. But Seanan McGuire puts in so much time and effort to show an attempt at rationalizing the world around them, and I love the sci fi nods.
  • The Psychology. I guess this is peripherally related, but when Sarah “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds” her cousins, she creates varying sized gaps in their memory, and the scars are apparent. In Annie, she manages to accept Sarah once more over time because the gaps were manageable. In Artie, Sarah completely changed his personality and worldview through her absence in his memories. Sarah left human-sized gaps in his memories, and Artie believes he was essentially alone and friendless. While I hate that it happened, I love how McGuire wrote it. This is the real ramifications of memory erasure, not the bullshit sold by “Eternal Mind.”
  • The Mice Who Save the Day. I can’t say much more about this. But if you’ve read the InCryptid series and know about the Aeslin mice, just know they are VERY cool in this book.

What Didn’t Work for Me:

  • The Pacing. For a book set in a completely different dimension, I feel like Calculated Risks shouldn’t have dragged when it did. The biggest issue for me, as with many other UA series, is the first person narrative. Sarah is great, but sometimes it grows monotonous to hear one person think all the time. And Sarah, bless her, was dangerously close to Annie levels of angst here. That is an unacceptable level of angst.
  • Deus Ex Machina. Without spoiling the ending more than the title of this turn off suggests, I feel like this installation had *so much buildup* just for everything to kind of magically be fixed in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for a happy ending. I am just not sure where the series goes from here.

That is sort of it… but there is something I can’t put my finger on. Sarah was always a nebulous character to me, now she has had a solid two book arc, but I am sort of ready to move on from her now.


Conclusion:

Calculated Risks is the sort of Seanan McGuire book that you will love if you love Seanan McGuire books, but definitely don’t want to start with if you are unfamiliar with her books. For people new to urban fantasy and Seanan McGuire, this series is a really great intro to the genre. Pick up book one, Discount Armageddon at Bookshop here (on sale AND in paperback!) For InCryptid veterans, I definitely recommend Calculated Risks as a bit of a new take in the series (new dimension and all) and getting to know some of the newer characters like Mark and James. Three and a half out of five waves! Pick up your copy here (also on sale and paperback, because holla!) Tell me your thoughts; I was pretty conflicted on this one, but still flew it in typical McGuire reading fashion.

Favorite Quote:

I hate it when people tell me not to be afraid. They never do that when something awesome is about to happen. No one says “don’t be afraid” and then hands you an ice cream cone, or a kitten, or tickets to Comic-Con.

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