I didn’t know these woods. I'd never been to Maine before, and [didn’t have any of the family bestiaries to prepare me for what I might find. There are cryptids everywhere in the world, which only makes sense, when you consider “cryptid” means “science doesn‘t know about it yet.” New species are discovered every year, brought into the scientific fold and lifted out of cryptozoological obscurity. These days the word mostly gets used to mean the big stuff some people say is real and other people say is a big hoax, like Bigfeet, unicorns, and the occasional giant snake.
(Always assume the giant snakes are real. The alternative is finding yourself being slowly digested in the belly of something you didn’t want to admit existed, and while I’m as fond of healthy skepticism as the next girl, I’m a lot more fond of continuing to have my original skin. As in, the one I was born with, not the one the snake has left me with after a little recreational swallowing me whole.)
After Annie, Sam, Fern and Cylia leave Florida and the disaster that was left in their wake, they bounce around a little before settling on something that is about as non-Florida as you can get on that side of the country -- central Maine. They find a house that needs a tenant for a few months while the owner is off to Europe and settle in to enjoy a time off the roads to regroup, rest and recuperate.
Ahh, such a good idea.
But first, they meet a neighbor, James Smith. It turns out that he's a sorcerer, who's itching for a fight with the Crossroads for the way they fulfilled (or didn't) a deal with a friend of his from a few years' back. Annie owes the Crossroads something, and it just might come time to pay up -- which isn't good news for James. If that wasn't enough, Leonard Cunningham -- Annie's Covenant connection and the presumptive future leader of the group comes to town on her tail.
So much for the three R's.
Annie's solution to the problems she faces here is so... Annie. On the one hand, this is obvious, she's a different character than Alex or Verity -- and this series has never been the kind where the Price kids are interchangeable. But there is just no way that Verity or Alex would even consider doing what Annie tries. In many ways, she reminded me of Harry Dresden with the way that she dealt with the final problem. No, not by throwing a lot of fire, snark and energy around, but by coming at the problem in a way that you just don't see coming (although, that's not ruling out snark and fire) that seems more than a little reckless. Up to that point, Annie and crew had reminded me a lot of Sam and Dean Winchester and their crew.
This was really such a great way to wrap up this Annie arc -- it's going to be hard to put her aside for a book or three. Verity's a lot of fun, Alex is a great reluctant hero who'd rather be researching things -- but Annie? Annie's really my kind of Urban Fantasy character -- in the vein of Dresden, Atticus O'Sullivan, Ree Reyes, etc. And her friends are a lot of fun, too. The only thing this book is missing that'd really make it fantastic are the Aeslin mice -- their absence is felt, particularly because Annie can't stop thinking about them. Of all the things that McGuire has brought into my life, these mice are my favorite -- and it's been too long since I've had a decent dose of them.
I'm not sure how to talk about this without digging into details -- and I'm this close to tossing out my spoiler policy and pulling an all-nighter to produce 20-30 pages about the InCryptid Dire Straits Trilogy. So much of what makes this book work is as its the culmination of this trilogy-within-the-greater-series. While I don't think the book is perfect, I don't remember a single problem I had with it -- and felt the same way while reading it. Everything worked -- the voice, the characters, the villains, the stakes, the challenges, the solution, the emotions, the quips, the action. I spent a good deal of time unsure how many of Annie's little group were going to survive, and this isn't normally that kind of series. I don't think I actually shed a tear at the height of the novel -- they weren't far from the surface. This met and exceeded every expectation I had for this book and made me rethink my estimation of the series as a whole.
This is easily the best of this very good series -- in fact, were this the final book in the series, I'd be satisfied. I'm very, very glad that it isn't -- please don't misunderstand -- but if it were... Heart, humor, thrills, and a very clever conclusion, pulled off in a way that the whole series has been leading to, but you don't see coming. I don't know how McGuire can equal it -- much less top it. But since we're talking Seanan McGuire, she will, probably not in book 9, but soon. Go get it -- you'll be better off if you start with #1 (Discount Armageddon), but you could get away with starting at #6 (Magic for Nothing), you can still appreciate a lot of the goodness if you jump on here, but you'll miss so much you won't enjoy it the way you could.