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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2019)
New York Times bestselling and Alex, Nebula, and Hugo-Award-winning author Seanan McGuire introduces readers to a world of amoral alchemy, shadowy organizations, and impossible cities in this standalone fantasy.

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.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

492 pages, Kindle Edition

First published May 7, 2019

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About the author

Seanan McGuire

469 books15.5k followers
Hi! I'm Seanan McGuire, author of the Toby Daye series (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, Late Eclipses), as well as a lot of other things. I'm also Mira Grant (www.miragrant.com), author of Feed and Deadline.

Born and raised in Northern California, I fear weather and am remarkably laid-back about rattlesnakes. I watch too many horror movies, read too many comic books, and share my house with two monsters in feline form, Lilly and Alice (Siamese and Maine Coon).

I do not check this inbox. Please don't send me messages through Goodreads; they won't be answered. I don't want to have to delete this account. :(

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5 stars
10,038 (36%)
4 stars
10,172 (37%)
3 stars
5,018 (18%)
2 stars
1,552 (5%)
1 star
441 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,159 reviews
Profile Image for Lala BooksandLala.
500 reviews63.9k followers
November 23, 2020
October 2020
re-reading vlog: https://youtu.be/8DdrZLdzqGA

April 2019
This synopsis had been taunting me for months. It's honestly just so well written I can barely stand it. For some reason I was hella nervous to actually get into this book. This was my first Seanan McGuire outside of (one of my favourite series of all time) The Wayward Children books, and I figured there's no way I could TRULY love an adult fantasy novel about science....and gods....right?

But slap my ass and call me Judy, if this isn't one of my new favourite books of all time. I have an inkling this isn't going to be for everyone, I must admit. It was my perfect brand of weird, and her writing is so addictive, and also..accessible? But this isn't a genre (actually...what even subgenre does this fall into) I ever read...so those well versed in this alchemical, mythological, SFF shit- could find something lacking for all I know. But to me it was flawless.

Roger and Dodger are precious cinnamon buns who must be protected at all costs. How Seanan McGuire manages to keep things fast paced, fun, and totally otherworldly...but then throws in some Real Life Shit, is inspired. There were scenes right from the jump that almost had me in tears.

Also the opening scene is "Five minutes too late, thirty seconds from the end of the world." And I mean, with a start like that, what could go wrong? Please go pre-order this so she writes a sequel.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
May 8, 2019
“They grew up sort of weird and sort of wonderful and they found each other and lost each other over and over again. But this time, when they found each other, they came as close as they could to the Impossible City. They walked the length of the improbable road, and the girl wrote down everything she knew about the universe, and the boy read it all aloud, and everything was okay.”

Going into Middlegame, I don't think I actually considered that I might not like it. It didn't seem possible. I have given five stars to all the four books I've read in McGuire's Wayward Children series, and I just assumed this would be an obvious five-star, love-you-forever kind of read. I actually feel bad saying this, but this was not my kind of book at all.

There was a lot of stopping and starting in my attempts to read this book (which have been going on for weeks). I guess I just don’t enjoy being this confused for so long and receiving so little explanation for anything. The Wayward Children series is exactly my brand of atmospheric fairy tale weirdness, but this was a completely different kind of weird. A dense sci-fi novel that was at least 200 pages too long for me.

I found it frustrating and confusing-- one of those books where I was kept in the dark for so long that my attention was waning. Trying to stay invested when I had no idea where it was going or what questions I needed to be asking was hard work. And so much feels unanswered. While I’m sure this is wholly intentional, it didn’t quite work for me. I was left with the unsatisfying feeling that I never fully "got" it.

There's a lot of repetition, too. Roger and Dodger are "experiment" twins - he a word genius, she a math genius - separated after birth and placed with adoptive parents. They discover each other through a psychic link, lose each other, find each other again. Little is happening during these psychic encounters. Alongside this, we get the perspective of James Reed, an alchemist who wishes to use Roger and Dodger to get to the Impossible City. Unfortunately, I felt zero emotional connection to these characters.

Though this is supposed to be a math and logic based sci-fi, it is strange how very little is explained. The lack of details made it hard to picture and suspend disbelief for. I struggled to understand the motivations of Reed or how he really planned to accomplish his ambitions. The "Impossible City" is just a cool-sounding name being thrown around without explanation.

Probably my favourite parts were the nods to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which I thought were clever. But, overall, this book was for a reader very different from myself. I know McGuire also writes under her Mira Grant pseudonym, but I'm starting to think she might actually be several different people in one, because all her books are so different. I mean it as a compliment. Middlegame wasn't my cup of tea, but it's pretty impressive to have so many different tricks up one's sleeve.

CW: Attempted suicide.

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Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
July 16, 2020
I admire the ambition and creativity with this story, but unfortunately I couldn't find myself attached to any of the characters and the stakes, and often found the writing to be convoluted and scattered.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,616 reviews10.7k followers
June 14, 2023
5-stars again. More importantly, my obsession is validated!!



Earlier:

It's time to reread one of my favorite books in preparation for the sequel, Seasonal Fears, being released!!



Original from 2019:

I'm officially a victim of Middlegame Mind Melt. Please send help. What the hell even is Middlegame, you may ask?



Honestly, I'm not quite sure.

I stared at the wall for a good 20-minutes after I finished just contemplating words and the meaning of life.



What a freaking achievement for Seanan McGuire?!



A tour de force of Science Fiction.

Expertly-crafted from start to finish. As the Reader, you feel like great secrets of the universe are about to be revealed to you, but will you understand them once they come?



There are so many intriguing concepts in Middlegame, the narrative is so vast, following our two main characters, Roger and Dodger, from when they are children up through adulthood.

I can't lie. It's a challenging read, but so worth the effort. You shouldn't be multi-tasking whilst reading this. It needs deserves your full attention.



This gave me Dark Tower vibes, a huge positive, in how prodigious and all-consuming the narrative was.

I absolutely adore McGuire's writing. Each and every word carefully selected and placed where it would be most effective.



I am really excited for more people to read this. I am so interested to see what others think.

I know it will not be for everyone, but I also feel a lot of people will be as impressed as I was.



At this point, I will read anything, ANYTHING, that Seanan McGuire writes. She is a gift.



Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor, for providing me with an early copy to read and review.

I certainly feel blessed to have received it. I appreciate the opportunity and know it will be a huge success!
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,310 reviews44.1k followers
May 28, 2022
OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!OMG!
Im not the most religious person but I think I’m about to worship the intelligence, evil genius writing skills and visionary creation capabilities of this author! I want to read everything the author writes. I want to buy us best friends forever bracelets and be the most devoted, batshit crazy fan!

If you want to completely understand why i gave five stars this book! ( I’m also wearing t-shirt printed “Seanan McGuire is the best!” like a die-hard fan but don’t worry I already ordered it after I read “ Wayward Children” series! This book only reminded -emphasized-me of how much I loved the author’s works!)

My last 30 hours’ dialogues (or monologues because I mostly made blubbering sounds!):

First 2 hours:
My bestie Ashley: Hey, are you breathing? You have been frozen at the same position for two hours! You okay?
I flipped a page...
Bestie: Jesus Christ! She moved! She’s alive!

5 hours later
My husband ( talking behind gritted teeth) : Hon, you burned our dinner!
Me : Hmmm!
My husband: It took two hours the firefighters clean the mess!
Me: Hmmm....( I flipped a page)
My husband: Production company called, you’re 30 pages behind your script !
Me: Hmmm...( I flipped another page)
My husband: And we’re out of Chardonnay!
I dropped my kindle and began screaming.
Me: NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

20 hours later
Other bestie Dolly on the phone: So i’m getting a divorce! Leaving the country!
Me: Hummmm... ( I flipped another page)
Dolly: You started reading again, right?
Me: Arrrrrggghhhh( I flipped another page)
Dolly: You stopped to go to your EBRA ( Extreme Book Readers Anonymous) meetings! Oh no, stop it, you have one mouth chip! One moment without books didn’t kill you! You can do it again! You’re strong enough! Just drop the book down, nice and slow!
I ended the call and flipped another page!

30 hours later
Husband dearest: Hon, you didn’t eat, you forgot to sleep! Neighbors called me to complaint about the smell. I think it’s coming from you! So I have to do something about it!

He poured out a bucket of ice water on me and I wiped my kindle and kept reading. I flipped another page and I started to cry because the book is ended!

Summary: If you like gory, harsh, terrifying but also mind blowing, head hurting and entertaining, sci-fi stories, you’re gonna love this book as much as I did!
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
554 reviews60.5k followers
January 15, 2020
The author really has a knack for creating interesting worlds or powers and characters. Siblings linked by quantum entanglement? Powers worthy of gods? Powers linked to language and maths? I was really intrigued!

Having said that, I found myself not caring too much about the direction of this book. The world and goal seemed way too vague to me and I had to push myself to finish it as my interest dwindled the further I got into it.

I gave the audiobook a try and some of the voices were really not pleasant to listen to.

Not my favorite by her.
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.7k followers
March 9, 2023
I hate being proven wrong.

They say practice makes perfect, and it rarely happens to me, so I don't have the experience to be good at it. On the once-every-several-years occasions that it occurs, I will often try to smoothly change the subject in order to subvert having to say the second-most dreaded three words in the English language ("you were right"). That leads to situations where I go from arguing about whether Joe Exotic is still in prison to suddenly saying "have you been following that thing about the guy finding shrimp tails in his Cinnamon Toast Crunch?"

I'm a conversational genius.

Anyway. Unfortunately, it appears hell has frozen over, because I was wrong about one thing: my ability to like adult fantasy novels with a page count over 500.

This was so fun.

It took me FOREVER to get into it. I had to read it in 50-page chunks every 5 days for several weeks before I actually sat down and read the thing, but once I did I didn't put it down.

This is incredibly unique in every way. The character dynamics and development are so wonderful - I felt like I grew to KNOW these characters, more than I can say whether I like or dislike them. The world is cool. Once the pacing gets ahold of itself it's a blast.

Other than the first 40% of this being a crime against humanity, I only have nice things to say. And one of them includes that I, in a miraculously infrequent event, was incorrect.

Bottom line: I liked it!

---------------
pre-review

worth it, ultimately.

review to come / i think 4 stars

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currently-reading updates

at this point i think i'm addicted to picking this up, reading 50 pages, then putting it down for 5 days, somehow repeating this process until the end of time.

round 4!

---------------
tbr review

has hell frozen over? are pigs flying? because i wanna read a 500 page fantasy and i have no idea who i am anymore
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,483 reviews79.1k followers
October 11, 2022
"In the same ordinary town, on the same ordinary street, lived two ordinary children who had never quite managed to cross paths."

MR. HUMPHREY: "So what was this book about?"
ME: "Honestly, I couldn't tell you but I loved it."
MR. HUMPHREY: ......
ME: .......

Ok, but have you ever read a book that is so intellectually deep and intricately detailed in subject matter that you aren't well versed in, that you haven't got the first clue how to explain it to someone else? Honestly, that's how I feel about most of Seanan McGuire's books, because her writing is so flawlessly executed that we aren't worthy of her stories, yet she allows us to read them anyway. Even the blurb is fairly cryptic, and I think the publisher wisely chose to keep the cards close in hand on this book for the very reason that it's best to go in open-minded and ready to be lead by the author, hand-in-hand, to The Impossible City.

"Medicine rests upon four pillars-philosophy, astronomy, alchemy, and ethics."

^ That above quote, to me, sums up what this book is about. *Insert best SNL Stefan voice* This book has everything-twins, alchemy, quantum physics, fires, Frankenstein creatures, MORE FIRES, telepathy (of sorts), a book within a book, EVEN MORE FIRES- well, I think you get the picture. Throwing a list of buzz words at you is much easier than trying to explain precisely WHAT this book is, and the author even stated in her afterword that her four page pitch of this novel wasn't enough for her agent to get what this book was, so she just wrote the damn thing. Badass level, achieved!

This book is long, friends. Please don't let it scare you, because i plowed through all *roughly* 550 pages in 3 days, and that's only because I had adulting to do in between. The beauty of McGuire's novels are that, she takes an idea that seems so far fetched it could never happen, and then magically forms it into this ALMOST realistic and very scientific sounding hypothesis that has you googling at midnight wondering if scientists have achieved this level of madness. It's safe to say that this book won't be for everybody, and will mostly appeal to those looking for a science fiction novel that is heavy on the science side, but once again Seanan McGuire, queen of all things intellectually quirky and deliciously bizarre, has blown me away. Highly recommended for those looking for a challenging read, and I mean that as the highest compliment.

"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong." -Richard Feynman

*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,175 reviews98.9k followers
May 2, 2022
This was still a good read, but I really am sad I didn't end up loving it more.

Youtube | Instagram | Twitter | Blog | Spotify | Twitch

Trigger and Content Warnings for very descriptive gore, many scenes with blood depiction, murder, death, drug use, seizures, cutting, attempted suicide, overdosing, natural disasters (earthquakes), and loss of loved ones.

I read this for OWLs Magical Readathon 2020! ⚡

Buddy read with Melissa! ❤
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,263 followers
January 22, 2021
------------------VIDEO REVIEW------------------

4/5/19
My review is up :D

22/4/19
Best book that I have ever read in my life. If you know me and if you've read the book you'll know why hahah. Either way, my review will be up on my channel soon! :)

9/4/19
Well, as I am typing this, I am looking at the arc of this book on my DESK. I AM INTERNALLY SCREAMING!!!!!

You can find me on
Youtube | Instagram | Twitch | Twitter | Tumblr | Website | The Storygraph
Profile Image for Katie Colson.
676 reviews6,906 followers
January 5, 2023
⭐️4
Reading Vlog: https://youtu.be/8TIpw8x8V4Q

This is wholly unique. It is so rare to find a story that's never been told before. Seanan McGuire always finds it though. And she tells it in such a whimsical, macabre, mesmerizing way as to totally transport you into the story.

I will say that I reread this hoping to fully understand the alchemical machinations. However, a lot of this book remains out of reach and at this point I don't think it's me, I think it just wasn't fully formed. Which is completely fine. I shouldn't have assumed that this subject matter would be completely rooted in realism and logic. It isn't meant to be.

Also, I heard someone say that you could read this book back to front and intake the same story and I agree. We end where we began and nothing has really happened. But the characters are what we're rooting for at the end of the day. And the characters are fantastic.

I especially adore Leigh and Erin. Erin is hurt and spiraling while coming across as the picture of calm and level headed. While Leigh is a genius but allowed to be deeply toxic. Leigh's backstory of being created from the body parts of 13 brilliant female scientists is stunning.

This quote is about Leigh and is shows the brilliance and dark whimsy of McGuire's writing...

"For her, life is the lab and the lab is life. The lab is where she awoke, confused, filled with the shrieking souls of countless dead. The wings of crows beat in her ribcage, prisoned in the fleshy confines of her heart; sometimes she feels their feathers brushing against her bones, which are a mixture of human, caprine, and whalebones scrimshaw, carved so beautifully that she sometimes thinks it a pity she needs skin. She would be so much more attractive as a walking specter of tendon and bone, exposing her creator's artwork to the world."

Like, look me in the eye and tell you that quote didn't grab you by the throat???


⭐️4.5

Erin is THAT girl!

I loved this so much. I need to get a physical book to annotate cause the audiobook is not it sis. But it will do if you can’t get a hold of a book or, like me, don’t have the attention span to physically read 528 pages with your eyeballs.

I can’t wait to read more in this world. I just adore Seanad McGuire 💕
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
489 reviews39k followers
October 21, 2019
Am I dreaming or am I awake? I don’t know anymore.

It doesn’t matter.

Because in either case, I’m still forever going to dream about the improbable road to the Impossible City.


MY MIND IS REELING. MY MIND BROKEN .
Profile Image for Amy Imogene Reads.
976 reviews852 followers
May 26, 2022
5 reality-bending stars

How in the world do I write this review? The person who just finished this is both the person who started and simultaneously someone new. (A nod to the book, a nod to my feelings.) Middlegame is full of contradictions, belief, soul-forged truth, and an exploration on what we mean when we create myth.

Writing: ★★★★★
Concept: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★ (It was only ★★ until I finished the book and reflected)
Execution of themes: ★★★★★

Middlegame is a novel for those of us who are looking for the spark of the Other that laces every page of Every Heart A Doorway. If you were not a fan of McGuire's novella series, I strongly feel like you will have similar issues with Middlegame, if not for the same reasons.

Middlegame is frustrating, feverish, overtly cloudy, and mind-bending in the way that only Seanan McGuire can be. What do you get when you splice time travel, parallel realities, chaos game theory, notions of what it means to be human, and a desire for the Other? Something frightening, unending, and heartrendingly beautiful. I spent the first third confused, the middle third learning, and the last third holding my breath. I almost wonder what kind of novel it would be if you read it backwards, chapter by chapter. I think the story would hold up.

Roger and Dodger are twins formed, not made, and are separated at birth in order to fulfill their true purpose on Earth at the hands of their creator, a creation himself and the man intent on fulfilling alchemy's Doctrine of Ethos on Earth. They need to become one and to stay separate, to fulfill their purpose and to keep their purpose from fulfilling. We go into the plot with almost no information, and I think that is one of the novel's strengths so I'll leave it at that. Trust in Middlegame to show you its way, in its own time, and for its own reasons.

The pacing of Middlegame can be described as a three-dimensional spiral, in the shape of a tornado. Imagine the spiral in your head—it starts out wide, with just one strand in the dark. It's slow. You don't have any frame of reference. Then on your second loop around, it's a bit tighter, and you can see the points of connection between your current place and where you've come before—as well as a vague sense of a slightly-more-tightened coil beneath you. You go faster as the loops get tighter, and your sense of place and knowledge of the world compounds with each loop faster, faster. By the end, you're rolling around the same spot over and over and over and it's almost like you've stopped traveling any distance and are just retracing the same fevered spin, learning and unlearning the same steps in place.

I think that Middlegame might lose several readers on its first few revolutions of the spiral. The idea is big, and it is intentionally not well explained. If you can make it through the first few loops and start to see the patterns, I promise it's worth it.

In characteristic Seanan McGuire fashion, it is enough and it is not enough. It is beautiful and it is ugly. It is love and it is pain, there and not there, too slow and too fast, complete and undone. I can't get enough of her mind's creations. I would say that this is her magnum opus, the thing that she will never surpass, and yet... I bet she will.

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Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
July 1, 2019
ETA: This is too funny! Seanan McGuire is actually going to turn the Up-and-Under/Over the Woodward Wall element of this novel into a real book series! https://www.tor.com/2019/07/01/announ...
I am so there for this.

4.5 stars for Seanan McGuire's latest novel! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature in a slightly different form, as a collaborative review with my friend and co-reviewer Jana. You should read our (excellent) joint review there! :D

James Reed and his assistant Leigh Barrow ― a pair of rebel alchemists of the mad scientist type ― have been doing human experimentation for years, trying to make/breed (it’s a combination of both) children who will embody the “Doctrine of Ethos” and have godlike magical powers. Because putting all this power in one person hasn’t worked, they split the Doctrine into its two components, math and language, between two fraternal twins. One twin will be a math genius; the other gifted with language and words. Raising these children under controlled conditions, the alchemists believe they can achieve the results they want and keep the powers under their own control.

Roger and Dodger are one of these sets of twins, separated at birth and adopted out to families living on opposite coasts of the United State of America. Roger is the language-gifted child and Dodger (a girl) is the math-gifted one. At age 7 the twins figure out that they have not only the ability to mentally communicate (through “quantum entanglement,” announces Roger triumphantly) but the capacity to see through each other’s eyes ― a revelation to Roger, who is completely colorblind. But meanwhile the single-minded alchemists are keeping a VERY close eye on them. They'll do anything - even murder - to make sure nothing interferes with their plans.

In Middlegame, McGuire blends together light science fiction, fantasy and some horror, and then tosses in elements of Greek philosophy (the aforementioned Doctrine of Ethos), Tarot-like concepts, timeline shifting, classic children’s literature, and more in an almost indescribable literary concoction. Initially I found it a little too muddled. I wanted the improbable road leading to the Impossible City to make more logical sense, and I thought the half-explained quasi-Tarot references to the King of Cups, Queen of Wands/Swords, Jack Daw, and Page of Frozen Waters were more distracting than useful. A. Deborah Baker only briefly appears at the very beginning of Middlegame, but her ideas inform the entire plot. The chapter-heading quotes from her Over the Woodward Wall add color to the main plot but didn’t supply all of the additional clarity and meaning I was looking for. (I deeply wish that this were an actual book, though!)

But a funny thing happened on my way to the virtual forum where Jana and I were exchanging our ideas and assembling our joint review. I dug back into the text of Middlegame and found that these various elements melded together far more satisfactorily than I thought on first read. Elements that at first seemed opaque appeared much clearer on second read. I especially like the idea of L. Frank Baum using The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to deliberately muddy Baker’s pure division of the four elements (water, air, fire and earth and the related humors) into four quadrants.

I’m still dubious about the “Doctrine of Ethos” as the concept underlying the entire alchemical plot. The original doctrine (a Greek theory of how music influences the thoughts and emotions of humans) has an extremely tenuous logical connection to how our unbalanced alchemists are literally embodying the Doctrine in a pair of individuals, “forc[ing] the Doctrine into flesh” as a way to influence the entire world, the fabric of time and reality itself. And I’ve concluded … you just have to roll with it. Suspend disbelief, strap yourself into your seat and enjoy the ride.
Smart kids get put on a pedestal by parents and teachers alike, and the rest of the class gathers around the base of it throwing rocks, trying to knock them down. People who say ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ don’t understand how words can be stones, hard and sharp-edged and dangerous and capable of doing so much more harm than anything physical.
McGuire has such a gift for putting profound insights into words that strike your heart. As Roger and Dodger, both lonely children who don’t really fit in with others, get to know each other through their long-distance telepathic relationship, they realize how much they fit together, the scholastic strengths of one matching the weaknesses of the other.
They can help each other. They can shore up the broken places. He knows the words for this: cooperation, symbiosis, reciprocity. So many words, and he’ll teach her all of them, if she’ll just keep being his friend.
I realized, not long before Roger and Dodger themselves mention it, that their last names, Middleton and Cheswich, combine to make Midwich, a clever reference to The Midwich Cuckoos, a classic SF horror novel about a group of alien children (partially) concealed among humans. In Middlegame, though, the cuckoos have our undivided sympathy.

Erin, the female half of one of Reed’s failed twin sets, turned assistant, developed into an excellent, multi-layered character, with far more depth than I initially expected. She ended up being one of my favorite characters … unlike Leigh, whose beauty hides an appalling bloodthirstiness.

I have to add that I think the main plot of Middlegame is ingenious. I loved experiencing the growth of Roger and Dodger and the twists and turns in their relationship, and seeing how their powers gradually manifested. The astrolabe in Reed’s lab turns out to be more than a lovely symbol. There’s some pretty cosmic stuff going on here! If this is just the middle game in this world, I’d love to read about the endgame.

Middlegame is a complex and thought-provoking novel that defies easy categorization. If you’re in the mood for something unusual, I strongly recommend Middlegame.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy!

Content notes: Some horror (THAT BURNING HAND THING) and violence, murder, attempted suicide, scattered F-bombs.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
784 reviews12.5k followers
September 3, 2020
“You can’t skip to the end of the story just because you’re tired of being in the middle. You’d never survive.”

Middlegame was a strange book which left me a bit torn. I really liked the middle of this story, its “middlegame” so to say - the journey through the lives of unfortunately named Roger and Dodger, but the resolution and all the alchemy framework and the Impossible City left me a bit cold.
“[…] Can anything really be ridiculous when your starting point is “we’re secret twins who found each other across a continent through quantum entanglement, which is slightly more useful than a telephone, without being as good as telepathy”? Everything about them is ridiculous. It always has been.”

In an attempt to control the universe, a mad scientist-type evil sadistic rogue alchemist and his henchwoman find a way to embody the Doctrine of Ethos, specifically the Language and Math that manipulate reality and time itself. The result of the alchemical engineering is the existence of twins Roger (language incarnate) and Dodger (math incarnate), separated after their birth and raised on opposite coasts, just to find each other over and over again (for instance, telepathically at age seven), regardless of physical separation and timeline resets — and just to lose each other again and again and again.
“You’re late,” she says. It’s not “hello,” but it’s the only thing she feels: he’s late. He’s seventeen minutes and five years late, and she’s been alone too long.”

All while people are murdered and cities are destroyed and Hands of Glory are lit, and suicides are attempted, and chess is played, and earthquakes shatter cities, and the Doctrine is waiting to manifest.

“They destroy themselves every time they destroy the world. Their past is littered with the unburied bodies of the people they chose never to become.”

I loved the journey of Roger and Dodger, their attempts to grow into their own abilities while trying to be somewhat normal children, often painfully lonely until they find a way to connect. I loved how they stumbled through childhood, adolescence and youth, how they reconnected each time, how they learned to trust despite betrayals and hurt. I loved how they found their missing halves in each other and formed the strange supernatural connection between them. I loved the SF elements of their “quantum entanglement” and especially Dodger’s way of seeing and using math all around her.

I loved how much of the book took place in Berkeley and even the mention of Berkeley’s evil squirrels (seriously, those monsters will mug you to get at any food scraps. Beware!)
Life Sciences Annex at UC Berkeley and a bench where I’m sure they had the “weird DNA” conversation by Strawberry Creek.
“Sacrifice. That’s what they’ve each done, at least once: they’ve sacrificed the other for their own protection.”

Even the somewhat repetitive nature of their encounters and separations felt organic, felt like it fit well into the framework of the story and their lives. And it was wonderful seeing siblings as protagonists, with love and connection that does not need to be romantic — because let’s face it, having a male and a female central characters in most novels would lead to some sort of romance, so avoiding that cliche by introducing a sibling pair was refreshing (because luckily Seanan McGuire is not George R.R. Martin).
“He can’t be real, because if he’s real, she’s a monster for what she did to him.”

And I started to care about those two, the geniuses who were perhaps because of it even more vulnerable and often ridiculous in their decisions, and so incomplete on their own, and so painfully clueless about them being pawns for sinister forces — and I wanted for them to find each other and fix what was cruelly ripped apart when the twins (and the two halves of the Doctrine) were forcibly separated. Dodger, the live wire always on the verge of being tripped, and Roger, just wanting to find normalcy and yet often so scared. They grew on me, those two lost vulnerable prodigies.
“I’m saying if they wanted to control the elemental forces of creation, they shouldn’t have turned us into people. People have their own agendas. Mine doesn’t match theirs anymore.”

Sutro Baths in San Francisco, 1896 and current ruins.

What I did NOT care for was the alchemy framework, and the fuzzy idea of the whole Impossible City with its improbable roads which all remain beyond unclear, and all the references for children’s stories that supposedly hold the clues to the alchemy principles. The logical jumps that require connecting the main SF plot to the children’s story fantasy setting via alchemy required more grey cells or perhaps suspension of disbelief than yours truly can master. To me those were stuttering stops in the narrative, unwelcome and unwanted. Perhaps it’s because I still felt that any of those parts were very undeveloped and unclear even at the end of the lengthy tome. I know there will be sequels, but still it helps to have at least some clearer understanding of the antagonists motivations and reasons, which even for me were much too vague and too muddled to make much sense.

Or perhaps because the antagonists were so clearly *antagonists* drawn without even a suggestion of moral greyness, unquestionably and simplistically evil and flat (imagine a moustache-twirling cartoon villain commanding a bunch of henchmen/minions, and you’ll be right on the money). Luckily, at least the protagonists Roger and Dodger were allowed complexity and unlikability that made them feel more real and rounded instead of caricaturish.
“They’d been working for the glory of the cause, working for citizenship in the Impossible City, and they had made her the kind of weapon that could be used to change the world.
The trouble with weapons is that they can be aimed in any direction.”

All that said, the good certainly outweighed the bad annoying. The protagonists were complex and developed, and the language and writing were evocative and at times spellbinding, and settings were immersively atmospheric, and suspense built well, and the relationships between characters drawn with good understanding of human desires and motivations. And what I’m going to remember is the story of the twins and not the unsatisfying framework.

So to me it was really a weird and fascinating story about two flawed and unusual people finding each other and forging a strange bond through thick and thin and quantum entanglements, trying but failing to avoid sharp corners of life, caught up between confusion and fear and trust, learning to make a new whole out of broken bits — with some other stuff in the background that remained a bit vague and irritating.

I read two other books by McGuire before, both from the Wayward Children series. This one is very different in style and language — and I liked that she pulls it off. Not everyone can comfortably work in several different genres, but McGuire certainly can.
“Magic doesn't have to be flashy and huge. Sometimes it's the subtle things that are the most effective of all.”

It’s not perfect, no, but I feel just fine rounding it up to 4 stars.
——————

My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2020: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews683 followers
April 16, 2020
1ish stars.

Sorry, not sorry. I don't feel like I need to justify why I dislike this so strongly, but I'll explain anyway in case anyone else is in the same boat and needs to be reassured they're not crazy (or at least not alone in their craziness).

I used to think I was a big Seanan McGuire fan, but I'm realizing I'm really just a big Wayward Children fan. I seriously love those books, but I haven't loved anything else written by her. I actually think all of the things I like about the Wayward Children books - their simplicity and cleverness and whimsy - are all the things that don't work in this book. The tone of that series and this book feel similar, but this is decidedly not simple at 500+ pages, it's conceited instead of clever, and there's too much whimsy for a book with so many adult elements. So hard to take seriously.

Also, I don't like any of the characters. In Wayward Children all of the characters are a bit touched which is completely justified given their circumstances and the child-like tone of the book. In Middlegame there's no reason for all of the characters to be silly caricatures of human beings; no one in real life talks like that. I find most of them, including Roger and Dodger, irritating and one-dimensional, which admittedly is part of the plot, but no less frustrating. The villain is nothing more than a cliche evil genius who watches from afar, wickedly wringing his hands, more than willing to monologue his intentions to control the universe, all while sending out evil henchmen to do his bidding instead of seeing it through.

The premise sounds cool but the plot ends up being nonsensical. I can just imagine a couple second-graders coming up with a book idea: "My favorite subject is math and yours is language arts. I bet if we fused brains we'd be so smart we could probably take over the world!" Combine that with a convoluted mishmash of Frankenstein, Wizard of Oz, tarot cards, time travel, etc. and it just becomes a hot mess.

To be honest, I'd much rather just read Over the Woodward Wall, the fictional children's book mentioned and sampled throughout the novel. From what I hear McGuire is actually going to write the series and I'm so on board for it.

Note: I thought the audiobook narration was pretty awful which I'm sure contributes to my dislike. I don't know if it was the narrator, or the direction she was given, but it was so bad. Ridiculous accents, sporadic tempo changes in the middle of dialogue, exaggerated lilting of cadences like the verbal equivalent of indeterminate music. My perception of the characters as being ridiculous is probably due in part to her ridiculous interpretation of them.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,105 followers
January 17, 2022
Re-Read 1/17/22:

I don't really need to say anything else. I still loved this as much as the first read. It's exciting and fantastical and all the SF elements kicked butt. Or were they Fantasy? It hella doesn't matter. Alchemy is the big, big bad, and I'm all over it.


Original Review:

Oh, lordy! Big caveat coming. I'm already a devoted fanboy of Seanan and I read almost everything she ever comes out with no matter what because I trust her implicitly.

BUT.

Nothing prepared me for this ambitious, thoughtful, mind-blowing modern fantasy of Alchemy and Twins. She spread her wings for this one and turned tons of dichotomies into hardcore story elements, synthesizing Order and Chaos, Math and Storytelling, Isolation and Community, and made a story of Balance a bit more ambitious than any I've seen in almost any novel.

That's Middlegame. The space between the beginning and the end. The moment of transformation. The moment of synthesis.

I'm SOOOO freaking happy to have read this. :) I'm going to nominate it for next year's Hugo on its own merits and NOT because I'm already a fanboy of the author.

That's the quality within. :) My decision has been purified with a universal solvent. :)

Oh, and the characters, Roger and Dodger, are freaking cool. :) Great, complicated, beautiful story. The opener isn't quite as strong as the early days of the two kids, but that's merely my own opinion. Once all the elements started mixing together into this alchemical brew, the results were amazing.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
Want to read
September 19, 2018
neither the threat of math nor the threat of twins are enough to keep me from wanting this book. only for you, mcguire...
Profile Image for myo ⋆。˚ ❀ *.
824 reviews6,892 followers
July 22, 2020
i have never fallen in love with a book as fast as i have with this one. as soon as i read the violent scene in the first chapter i was sucked in. everything from the chapters being out of order so the story is told on an inconsistent timeline to the mad alchemist in this book and most importantly the twins. i love their connection and how they were linked with each other, how they were smarter than everyone else but that didn’t make them smart at everything. how they were two halves of a whole. Roger being good at spelling and loving to read but being bad at math. Doger being amazing at math and being bad at spelling (while growing up) i love how before they discovered they were twins they just thought they were friends but were so dependent on each other.
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,306 reviews28k followers
April 16, 2020
3.5 stars
I recently read this for a video and I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this! This is definitely a bit out of my comfort zone, but I fell in love with these characters: Roger and Dodger.

I will say I enjoyed the first half more than the second half, and I wasn’t totally invested in the fantasy aspect of this book, I was pretty confused about the impossible city and I spent most of the second half of the book not understanding what was happening, but Roger and Dodger and their cute relationship really made this book for me.

Here’s the reading vlog where I read this book: https://youtu.be/uitYgdWObpk
Profile Image for ALet.
292 reviews240 followers
July 30, 2019
The Reading Rush day 7: Read a book with a non-human main character.

★★★½ /5

This was amazingly weird!

I really enjoyed the storyline and premise itself of this novel; this was definitely unique and well written read. The characters were interesting, cleverly written, but not annoying and because of that it was easy to understand them and their motivations.

The plot itself was fascinating, but sometimes a little bit confusing. The story was layered and complex, it developed quickly and because of that, the story didn’t have time to become boring.

Seanan McGuire did a great job and I highly recommend this book to someone who wants something different.
Profile Image for Gavin Hetherington.
673 reviews6,132 followers
March 22, 2022
Read this for a video project on my YouTube channel, where I read some of my friends' favourite books and I had to like them or I would unsubscribe from their channel (l0l - it's all for fun, I swear). Check out my review of Middlegame here: https://youtu.be/yUMsRYWSqh4
Profile Image for Kayla Dawn.
291 reviews903 followers
November 27, 2019
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started this and tbh I'm still not entirely sure what was going on. What I do know is that I had a really good time.
Profile Image for Lucy Tonks.
503 reviews741 followers
May 25, 2021
"You can't skip to the end of the story just because you're tired of being in the middle. You'd never survive."


Holy shit! Holy hell, what was this book? What the hell? What did I just read? This is such a complicated and mindfucking book. Okay, it has been like two weeks since I finished this book and only now I've made the courage to write this review.


TW: self-harm, suicide attempt.


I've read this book as slowly as I could to be sure that I understood everything that was happening. I'm sure that there are a lot of things that I missed since this is a pretty dense book and because of that I cannot really consider it a favourite of the year. I'll probably re-read it closer to the release date of the second book. (which I had no idea was actually a thing until I finished this book) Only after I re-read it, and get the full picture that the author was trying to show by writing this, I feel like I could consider it a favourite.


This is such a complicated book that I know I will not be able to summarise the overall plot of the book, but here goes nothing.


Basically, there are these two twins. Roger and Dodger. Roger is very skilled when it comes to words and languages come easily to him. He understands how the world works through the power of words. Then we have Dodger. Math is her world. All she understand is through the power of math. Roger and Dodger aren't exactly human, but they aren't gods either. Not that they are aware of that. Then comes Reed in the picture. He is an extremely skilled alchemist. He created Roger and his twin, but he is not their father, not really. His plan is to raise the twins to power, to make them gods, then steal their power to himself. Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn't attained.


I love Roger and Dodger so much. Although I related more with Dodger, with her love for Math, I liked Roger more and I actually consider him my favourite character in this book. I feel so bad about everything they went through. They didn't deserve that. They should have grown up together. They should have been happy. But, of course, we wouldn't have had this masterpiece of a book if not for all the pain our main characters went through.


There were so many times when I was so confused through out the book, and that's mostly the reason why it took me longer to read this book than usual. It isn't that long of a book, but it isn't short either. But what made it hard for me to read it, it was how dense the book actually is. So many things happen in it. We see Roger and Dodger grow up through out the book. The first time we see them they are babies, then we see them grow up to kids, teenagers until their are adults. We see them facing so many challenges and some things affect them so so badly.


I feel like my review is so confusing. My brain is still processing everything that happened in this book. Even two weeks later. I'm not making this book justice! This is such a good book and if it feels like something you would enjoy, you should really pick this book up.
Profile Image for Grace (BURTSBOOKS).
153 reviews361 followers
January 6, 2020
I cannot even begin to try to explain how perfect this book was for me. Holy shit.

also the fact that I don’t even like the wayward children series and this??? Is my new favourite book??? How is that even possible????
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