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Book cover  Disappointed by the very praised Every Heart a Doorway, I thought I would give Seanan McGuire another chance and try the Alchemical Journeys series. The first book, confusingly titled Middlegame, is not a bad book, but it is very long and goes pretty much nowhere.

  The premise, just like in Every Heart, is great: a world in which alchemy is real, a form of sciency magic in which people don't do spells, but use magical artifacts, created by complicated rules of time, space and emotion. And what do alchemists want? World domination and a pony, obviously. Through a complicated inheritance chain that vaguely links to the author's A. Deborah Baker children books, this alchemist creates the embodiment of "the doctrine" in two twin children that are separated at birth.

  Great start, only the children don't know anything about alchemy, their only superpowers seeming to be a penchant for words and languages for the boy and one for mathematics for the girl. Also, they discover they can talk to each other if they close their eyes, regardless of distances. And they spend three quarters of the book doing pretty much nothing. If they want to meet, the evil alchemists thwart their attempts. If they want to research their connection or their blood, evil alchemists find out immediately and eliminate any threat.

  Imagine a Harry Potter spin-off where the heroes are a bunch of muggles who don't know magic exists, occasionally meet something magic and then promptly their memories are erased, and you kind of get most of this book.

  The siblings could only get out of their situation by being helped by a third party, and instead of explaining everything from the very beginning, said party is just randomly interfering and being cryptic when she does reveal herself. The ending doesn't fix things at all, being again comprised of random moments strung together in which things happen to the characters instead for them to have much agency or choice in what is going on.

  Bottom line: another story about passive characters that can't help their situation in a cruel and unpredictable world, no matter how interesting. I guess that's McGuire's style and I don't care for it much.


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