Yeah, I need to think of a better title the next time I do one of these…
So, Seanan McGuire has written no small amount of short stories for her InCryptid series, most of which are hosted at her website. Thanks to a combination between that and the library having two of the anthologies that contain some of those short stories (one each, of course), I’ve managed to blitz through all of the short stories that focus on Jonathan and Frances Healy’s lives together. So, here’s a quick little review of: The Flower of Arizona, One Hell of a Ride, No Place Like Home, Stingers and Strangers, Married in Green, Sweet Poison Wine, The First Fall, Loch and Key, We Both Go Down Together, Oh Pretty Bird, Bury Me in Satin, Snakes and Ladders, Broken Paper Hearts, and The Star of New Mexico.
Phew. Let’s get started.
For those who aren’t familiar with the world of InCryptid, it follows the Price family (descended from the aforementioned Jonathan and Frances) in their struggles to protect the cryptids of the world (well, North America, at any rate) and to navigate the intersections between cryptids and humans, or even various species of cryptid.
The family started when Enid and Alexander Healy decided to quit the Covenant of St. George, a European group of monster-hunters, due to an argument about a) what counted as a monster (what measure is a man?) and b) whether to kill every cryptid in sight or not. The Healys moved to a small town in Michigan, had a son (Jonathan), and generally settled down as cryptozoologists rather than monster hunters. Fast forward a couple decades and Jonathan goes down south to deal with whatever cryptid is killing people (and could therefore bring the attention of a Covenant strike team), where he gets in over his head and meets Miss Frances Brown.
The rest of the short stories go from there, following Johnny and Fran’s adventures together, including their engagement, their marriage, the raising of their daughter Alice, and their discovery of one of the more memorable cryptid species from the main series. Also more welding together of the InCryptid world with the world of ghosts from Sparrow Hill Road (for those who didn’t read that review of mine, I wasn’t a huge fan of the combination of worlds, mostly thanks to the way it felt like an afterthought on the InCryptid side). And, of course, no InCryptid story would be complete without the talking, religious mice.
Now that the background stuff is out of the way, onto the critiquing part of this review.
Short stories always seem so difficult, to me. I mean, you have such a limited amount of space to squeeze in everything you need to include, so every word has to count, which is difficult. On top of that, getting the emotions across…
But McGuire delivered. Maybe not in every one of the Fran and Johnny short stories, but in enough of them. This was probably helped along by the fact that, if you read them in chronological order, the characters grow – and grow on you – allowing you to invest more in them than if you were just reading one-off short stories. Their struggles and losses were heart-breaking while their triumphs were cheered – and their personality quirks became something I, at least, looked forward to seeing, to the point where I tried to predict when Fran would start threatening the newest poor person they’d run across.
The side characters don’t get as much development, of course, even if they manage to appear in more than one of the short stories, but when the longest of these is about 30 pages… I thought McGuire did a good job with Fran and Johnny and a pretty decent one with Enid, Alexander, Juniper, Mary, and Alice. Everyone else, well, it tended to depend on the story and the character. But that’s just a drawback of the short story format in general, I’ve found.
McGuire did good to keep the plots largely self-contained, as well. This meant it wasn’t a surprise when things wrapped up neatly at the end. But the few loose ends from one short story got tidied up in another, which was also nice to see. It meant that not everything got tied up with a bow, but it also meant that, when I kept reading, I got to see where it all ended up going.
Some of the foreshadowing was a bit heavy-handed, I suppose, but if you read the main series then you know where some of the plots are going, where they have to go in order to tie in with the book canon (which I believe was written first in at least some respects). And, too, some of the short stories were a bit too short and so things felt rushed, but in other cases the length was just right. In particular, the pacing of “We Both Go Down Together” felt good and underlined Fran’s panic, while it felt a bit like “Sweet Poison Wine” moved too fast (more, I will admit, due to Arturo’s decisions coming ‘too quickly’ than for any other reason).
On a different note, I was a little disappointed by the complete lack of attention paid to World War II, which is the backdrop for quite a few of the later short stories. It just doesn’t come up. At all. Not rationing, not the war, not what the Covenant might be doing during the war/under cover of the war… Nothing. I feel that there were definitely some missed chances there, given everything. But I can understand why McGuire didn’t want to go into all of that considering that she was focused a lot more on the cryptid and ghostly populations of North America and how they survive as humans move further and further into their territories.
In the end, however, I enjoyed the short stories detailing Fran and Johnny’s time together, and I’m glad I read them when I did. By which I mean, after having read most of the currently-published novels that follow Fran and Johnny’s great-grandchildren. Yes, that means the foreshadowing felt very heavy-handed and that I knew how some things had to end, but it also meant I wasn’t playing catch up with the world, which of course there isn’t a lot of space to explain in the course of a short story.
Taken as a whole, these fourteen stories earn a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy the main series,