Seasonal Fears (Alchemical Journeys book 2) by Seanan McGuire (book review).

Once upon a time Summer and Winter found human shapes and found that they liked them. Human belief gave them shape and blood sacrifices on the snow and the crops gave them form. For three hundred years, the first Winter King of America has clung to his power by chasing his season across the world and stifling his Summer Queen in sleep. Now he has died and a Coronation has been called. The candidates must journey to the Labyrinth and claim the Crowns.

Harry March knows three truths that underpin his every breath. He loves Melanie Cosgrove. She loves him and she is dying. Harry knows exactly what’s wrong with Melanie’s heart. Could read you chapter and verse about the science of it all but, really, all it means is that at any moment Melanie’s heart might just stop. He is always ready for that moment but when she falls at his football game he wasn’t ready. He fell with her and then they both got back up. Now his Melanie has no heartbeat despite being alive and this kid is telling them that they need to claim the crowns of Summer and Winter if they want her to stay alive.

‘Seasonal Fears’ is a companion novel to ‘Middlegame‘ which I have not read but cannot blame for the lack of focus that had me bouncing off this book a couple of times before getting into it. While there is a lot of flipping between perspectives and places in the first chapters I feel the fault is in me, not the novel. Perhaps I would have a greater sense of the world if I had read ‘Middlegame’ but in some ways this lack of knowledge helped me get behind Harry and Mel’s journey. We all shared ignorance about this crazy world where concepts like Time, Language, and the seasons exist in human forms and where alchemists can build people to house them.

Throughout ‘Seasonal Fears’, there are brief excerpts of other books by A. Deborah Baker, which I discovered when I finished the book are real books written by McGuire. A brief google later tells me that Baker is also a character from ‘Middlegame.’ I’m not sure how I feel about such incestuous linkings. I’m going to go and read them to find out. The excerpts add to the surreal fairy tale Harry is forced to wrap his head around where things that only make sense in mad children’s stories are suddenly his reality but, now I know that they are other books, I wonder how much is cross-promotion to boost sales. However, since there aren’t any overt mentions I hope McGuire is just building a broad universe rather than succumbing to capitalism.

The ending is somewhat anti-climactic but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The fairy tale style gives the whole novel a certain inevitability that seems to preclude any other alternatives. I applaud McGuire for not drawing the story of ‘Seasonal Fears’ out into another book with a cliff-hanger twist at the end. That would have left things feeling flabby and padded. There is nothing wrong with a bit of happily-ever-after that fades out with no more to be said. McGuire’s ‘October Daye’ urban fantasy series is, by contrast, up to book 17. Fans of McGuire’s ‘Wayward Children’ series (currently at 6 books) will find the style familiar.

However, if you found McGuire by way of her ‘InCryptid’ series or her work under the pseudonym Mira Grant you might find it a very different animal. The perspective is third person, not first, and that combined with the mythic feel gives it a less intimate distance with the characters but with a more serious mien.

‘Seasonal Fears’ is a story about legends that I’ve never read but somehow still know like the monarchs sacrificed to keep the seasons turning. That Jack Frost frolics through the icy winter. That there are princes in castles worthy of honours and that princesses may be fierce and independent as well as soppy in love. If you enjoy visiting Charles de Lint’s ‘Newford’ urban fantasy series of European fairies and American myths or you liked Tim Powers’ tales of tarot archetypes and classical myths that begins in ‘Last Call’ I think you’ll enjoy ‘Seasonal Fears.’

All the connected novels have been added to my to be read list for when I’m in the mood for a serious but lighter book that might give me something like a happy ending.

LK Richardson

April 2022

(pub: TOR, 2022. 496 page hardback. Price: $29.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-25076-826-1. UK release: 14 June 2022)

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