Tidal Creatures (Alchemical Journeys book 3) by Seanan McGuire (book review)

The Impossible City exists just beyond everything. It is a place that isn’t a place. It is architecture that isn’t really, that is the centre of all things. People live there, breathing its air and walking its streets. Every night the Moon shines down upon them but the Moon only shines down on real places so it is the Moon that shines on the Impossible City.

Judy agreed to share her human form with the goddess Chang’e when she was a child. It hasn’t interfered with graduate school or anything else she wants to do. In exchange, she gets to be a fragment of the Moon and see a wholly different part of the world. She has a plan. Everything is organised. The new avatar of the goddess Aske bleeding silver onto the path to the Impossible City does not fit that plan.

Kelpie is happy enough being an alchemical lab assistant. The lab accident that had taken her memory and left her skin orange and her feet hooves means she has to live in the lab but that’s okay. Margaret is always telling her that she’ll get better eventually. Then the Alchemical Council sent an auditor and closed down the project. Margaret was liquidated. Literally. Because Margaret had been lying. There was no lab accident. Kelpie was built out of spare parts to lure in Artemis to capture a part of the Moon.

Seanan McGuire has again brought us a wonderful tangle of a world and of world views. Natural forces are personified and alchemists build wonders out of horrors. The cosmic workings of the world are potentially malleable by human belief and ingenuity and its a race to control everything. A wonderful twist on the good versus evil theme. Still black and white but with a sprinkling of human confused flailing that brings the ultimate cosmic forces down to an approachable level.

‘Tidal Creatures’ suffers from having a complicated world with interlinking characters. At times the recap of other characters’ storylines got very repetitive and the whole personification of natural forces ‘thing’ was really explained to death.

I liked Kelpie and Chang’e/Judy. I wish they had been the focal point of the plotline the way Henry and Melanie are in book 2, ‘Seasonal Fears’. Henry and Melanie got to be their own heroes with the two higher order personifications relegated to a cameo appearance. Now, in book 3, these personifications are actual characters that can literally shape reality and that’s a bit of a game ending move which made for a rather anticlimactic ending. Kind of like what happens in real life I suppose, which is doubly sad when finishing another alchemical fairy tale.

Read it for the world and the vibes. Not necessarily the plot, though I have hopes that reading the completed series will link everything together in a satisfying way if I skip the ‘previously on’ paragraphs.

If you liked the other two books in the ‘Alchemical Journeys’ series you’ll like this one. It doesn’t stray from the established style or path. If you liked McGuire’s ‘Wayward Children’ series you might want to try this series out as well.

LK Richardson

June 2024

pub: TORdotcom, 2024. 464 page hardback. Price: 29.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-2503-335-1

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