Reasons I DNF This Book: Middlegame

Hello and welcome to an unexpected edition of Reasons I DNF This Book. I was hoping not to DNF as much post-NaNo, but, well… I am what I am.

Let’s get into it shall we? This week’s DNF: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire; DNF at 12%

First, as always:

Spoiler alert
Spoiler alert!

Now, I don’t actually have a lot to say this week. In fact, the reason I didn’t finish this book can be summed up in less than a tweet. But 1) I need to get back into the rhythm of posting and I decided not to finish a book so I may as well post something, and 2) I realized something obvious about my reading tastes.

Middlegame, from what I can tell, is a really good book. It’s really well written and literary in the ways that pique my interest. However, the book’s opening told me almost right away that this book wouldn’t be for me. I stuck it out and the subsequent chapters confirmed. I just don’t have the stomach for what I believed the plot would entail.

We follow a pair of alchemically created twins, so designed to… control the universe (?) via a combination of math and language, and their creator, and alchemical reaction himself James Reed.

Right away I realized this was outside my wheelhouse, because it was set in the contemporary-ish world rather than a purely fantasy one, but more to the point: some of the first few chapters were from one of the kid’s POVs.

Now, I’ve mentioned before that I don’t read YA. They just aren’t narratives I’m interested in, even when surrounded by fantasy trappings. But I’m quite certain Middlegame is not YA. It feels firmly adult even when we start seeing the world through Roger’s seven year old eyes (later 9 year old eyes, and that was where I stopped, so I imagine the age progression continues, though where it stops I cannot say).

So why did I stop? It was good writing and an interesting premise. Two big reasons:

1)      I can’t stomach books that are built around the trauma of children. I mentioned this in my review of The Fifth Season. That book made at times graphic allusions to child abuse (including the opening chapter in which a woman, spoiler alert, discovers her three year old son’s dead body) that almost gave me to put the book down entirely. The opening scene of Middlegame engendered many of the same misgivings. And since the book revolves around the children is often in their POV… I knew I wouldn’t make it through the whole thing.

2)      Reason number two is going to seem wild for a person who consumes dramatic media in any form but… To use a phrase I tell my partner all the time: I don’t like to be depressed in my spare time. I get enough of it in my own brain and I really don’t enjoy grimdark as a genre (not saying Middlegame is that at all). I need there to be hope, I need there to be victories. I don’t necessarily need everything to be rainbows and gumdrops, but I just don’t enjoy everything going wrong, not just wrong but WORLD ON FIRE EVERYONE DIES wrong, all of the time. It’s the prime reason I abandoned the A Song of Ice and Fire book series and chose to enjoy it as a guilty pleasure TV show in which I was attached to nothing and no one. And it’s why I trend toward more classic fantasy, in both my reading and my writing, where the heroes get to win.

Middlegame just happened to very early on touch on both of these issues and though I wanted to persevere because the writing is very good, I decided that life is just too short to force yourself to read a book that is stressing you out.

One day I’m going to make a list of books that I want to read but couldn’t for superficial reasons and make myself read them. But that’s going to have to wait until I’m rich and writing full time and have the time and mental energy to devote myself to improving my craft in that way. For now I’ll just have to settle for reading books I can relax with.


Wow, so I did end up having a lot to say after all. Thanks for following along. As always I take book recs for epic fantasy, if you’ve got any (recent) ones in mind! I’ll be back on Thursday for your regularly scheduled blog post. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.

Kerry Share

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