Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid novels book 9) by Seanan McGuire (book review).

Authors are very good at hunting out little documented information and embroidering it to produce something potentially spectacular. It is rare for anything to be totally original, that comes with imaginative weaving of new approaches with the extant. A cryptid is an animal whose existence is unsubstantiated. Examples such as Bigfoot and Yeti are common in folklore and, although they are believed in by a number of people, as yet not concrete scientific proof has been found. Those that search for the evidence are cryptozoologists.

Those familiar with Seanan McGuire’s writing will know that she takes folklore tropes as a starting point and plays with the ideas. In her ‘InCryptid ‘novels, of which ‘Imaginary Numbers’ is the ninth, the premise is that there are mythical people, many of them highly intelligent, who live amongst us. These cryptids have many forms but all are good at hiding amongst the throng of humanity. There are dangerous ones but there are also gentle, benign species. The Covenant of Saint George is an organisation intent of wiping them out regardless. When Thomas Price decided that not all cryptids were deserving of extinction, he left the Order and set about preserving the lives of those that were harmless. It is a cause that his descendants have taken on whole-heartedly.

The series revolves around different members of the Price family. The previous three books have featured Antimony Price as the lead character. Now focus switches to the youngest member, Antimony’s cousin, Artie, who is part-incubus. He rarely socialises because the pheromones he exudes cause everyone, male and female, fall in love with him. He, however, has loved Sarah since childhood. Sarah is a cuckoo.

Most of the cryptids that we have met in these books have a basically human form. It means that they can usually pass unnoticed in society. Cuckoos have evolved down a different line and are predators who consider humans as prey. Sarah was adopted into the Price family as a child and has grown up in a different environment to others of her kind. Five years previously, Sarah had been injured and it has taken her that length of time to regain the confidence she needs to travel on her own to visit the Price homestead. The problem with cuckoos is that they are territorial. They can make any human do what they want such as give them food and shelter, but they will not permit another in their territory. As Sarah lands at Portland airport, she realises that there is another cuckoo there.

After having dealt with her, Sarah meets up with Artie and family members. As Artie drives her home, a truck comes out of nowhere and hits the car, injuring Artie. This is only the beginning of their troubles. Cuckoos are gathering, something they never do, and they want Sarah. When Sarah is abducted, the younger Prices, Artie and Antimony, along with Antimony’s boyfriend, Sam, and her friend, James, acquired in ‘That Ain’t Witchcraft’, determine to rescue her.

In this novel, the Imaginary Numbers of the title refer to the theory that everything that exists can be explained by mathematics. Cuckoos are very good at handling figures and Sarah is exceptional. The other cuckoos expect Sarah to do is to write the equations within the space that contains her mind that will create a route for them to a new dimension. If she does this, it will destroy the world, which gives Artie another dilemma. If he cannot bring Sarah home safely, can he kill her to save the world and the other people he loves?

Many of the other types of cryptid in these novels have their roots in folklore. The cuckoos are an exception. In ‘Imaginary Numbers’, McGuire develops them as a truly alien species, giving insight into their behaviour and motivations. This is a good addition to the ‘InCryptid’ series of books.

At the end of this volume is a bonus extra, ‘Follow The Lady’. This novella seems misplaced as it concerns Antimony and her friends en route to Portland. It properly fits between the previous book, ‘That Ain’t Witchcraft’ and ‘Imaginary Numbers’. It is a slight story but does set a premise for a later novel involving Artie and Antimony’s grandmother about whom references have been made in previous volumes. It does throw up issues about writing short pieces involving major characters from a novel sequence.

Does the author keep out any information that relates to contemplated plot lines making the story an absolute standalone piece or include issues relevant to the main story arc. Placed here, ‘Follow the Lady’ feels like fifty pages chopped from the end of ‘That Ain’t Witchcraft. The reader would need to be familiar with all the other books to appreciate it. The trend of some publishers to append the opening chapter of the next novel to the end of the one just read is good marketing. The added previously unpublished story as a bonus can be appreciated. This one would have been better as the bonus for the previous novel or left out.

Pauline Morgan

May 2020

(pub: DAW, 2020. 431 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7564-1378-1)

check out websites : www.dawbooks.com and www.seananmcguire.com

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