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Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

I recognized the unique cover of Middlegame by Seanan McGuire from two places: first, it was an ALC provided to me by Libro.fm, and second, it was in an email from Goodreads.com. What intrigued me was the line in the email claiming that an author I had read and rated was releasing a new book.... but I hadn't read any Seanan McGuire. I read on, discovering that Seanan McGuire is a pen name for Mira Grant, the author of Into the Drowning Deep, the book I chose as my best read of 2018. Naturally, I HAD to listen to Middlegame.

In the beginning, we meet Roger -- a nine year old boy with an incredible knack for language. He is gifted with a deep understanding of words and comes to understand the ways of the world via the power of story. One day, out of nothing he begins hearing the voice of a nine year old girl in his head, a girl named Dodger who has a similar understanding of the world, but via mathematics. Though unsure if she really exists -- and vice versa -- Roger and Dodger become best friends, talking to each other telepathically from across the country, seeing each other's worlds through new eyes, and bonding in ways that no two others possibly could.

Over the course of their lives, they struggle through hardships and heartache together -- often times due to one another, leading to spans of five or more years without contact. But they keep finding each other, both in the real world and in their minds. They come to realize their bond strengthens each of their abilities (mathematics and language) to inhumane degrees, and they realize that they are not exactly human, but not exactly gods either. Not yet, at least.

Before they know it, they are using everything they have to survive a mysterious group of people set on "terminating" their "versions" of themselves. They have to figure out who and what they are, both to each other and in general terms, on the fly while also trying to stay five steps ahead of a powerful group of alchemists bent on ascending to the Impossible City as gods.

At first -- especially when nine years old -- I really did not like Dodger's character. I thought she was sassy in a disrespectful way, irritating in her mannerisms, and overall a nuisance. I kept thinking, "God, that poor boy with this irritating brat stuck in his head!" Then, as the book progressed, she really grew into herself and realized she did not like who she was as a person. She was lonely and suicidal and depressed, all things that I deeply identified with, and it changed my view of her almost completely. Suddenly, I saw so much of myself in Dodger's social life and her struggles with being so deeply engrossed in one subject well beyond that of my peers (mine was definitely language though... NOT math...) and I felt like I truly understood her character. She went from the worst to the best in just a few chapters. I just hope I wasn't that irritating as a nine year old, too!

The structure of the book is a bit confusing, I won't lie. There are these chapter titles that reference different timelines and universes that is hard to mentally map, but I found that when I ignored them and pushed through, the story read just fine. I do admit that I think I may have enjoyed it a bit more had I read it as opposed to listening just because I'm more of a visual thinker, but the audio book was well made and entertaining, and I still give it four of five stars. I could not (figuratively) put it down.

This is not the book for you if you need something with a very straightforward plot and an open explanation close to the beginning; this book does not offer that. But readers of books like The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton or Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang will love Middlegame.

"Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn't attained."

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

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