In a strange series of coincidences, Middlegame was the third time that something I read in a two week period had the infamous Hand of Glory featured. Hands of Glory are a refreshing mysterious and magical (and morbid, but that’s too many M’s) item to be used, especially in connection with alchemy. The obvious magical item to be used in a book concerning alchemy would be the Philosopher’s Stone, but author Seanan McGuire doesn’t go for the common default choice in her books.
Middlegame is about a pair of engineered twins who will help their creator control godlike powers via alchemical manifestation. If that’s confusing, don’t worry, in order to understand the book, you only have to accept that, not understand exactly how it works. One twin is math the other is language. The twins are given the names Roger and Dodger, proving that alchemists maybe shouldn’t name anything, and raised on opposite sides of the country. Add time travel to that and we have a story that breathes new life into old tropes and recombines them to create a compelling story. There were many concepts and connections that could have fallen flat or been contrived in the hands of a lesser author, but Seanan McGuire delivers with a deft…umm hand.
This book isn’t for someone looking for a fun Incryptid novel as it’s dark, the theme is rather bleak and there are elements of horror, including a suicide attempt. Yet despite that, the desire to continue reading it is very strong. The time travel aspect is handled in a new, interesting way that isn’t obvious as first, but the rules are slowly and solidly laid out for us as the book progresses and the timeline of the twins goes forward. The title of Middlegame would suggest chess and yes, that game is involved. Unlike Katherine Neville’s The Eight, however, it doesn’t play a big part of the novel, that honor goes to math and this book should be exceedingly validating to any woman in a STEM field.