Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire (Alchemical Journeys #2)

Melanie has a destiny, though it isn’t the one everyone assumes it to be. She’s delicate; she’s fragile; she’s dying. Now, truly, is the winter of her soul.

Harry doesn’t want to believe in destiny, because that means accepting the loss of the one person who gives his life meaning, who brings summer to his world.

So, when a new road is laid out in front of them—a road that will lead through untold dangers toward a possible lifetime together—walking down it seems to be the only option.

But others are following behind, with violence in their hearts.

It looks like Destiny has a plan for them, after all....

TITLE: Seasonal Fears
AUTHOR: Seanan McGuire
PUBLISHER: Tordotcom
YEAR: 2022
LENGTH: 496 pages 
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Science Fiction

Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep in terms of named identities, does some very cool things with traditionally gendered names.

Melanie has been dying her whole life under the watchful eye of her alchemist father, Harry has been by her side for as much of it as he possibly can. When they both collapse during practice after school it kicks off a road trip with some strange companions to try and fulfill a destiny Mel was designed for and Harry was born for. But they're not the only ones who could fill their seasonal roles...

Long sections of complicated worldbuilding are conveyed through explanations, repeated with the building familiarity of a fable, and the shifting tones of a bedtime story gone terribly awry. Convoluted concepts are told and revisited, which makes it soothing and easy to follow, since if one version doesn’t click there will be another try. Most of the story is a conversation, between the characters, the narrator explaining the how and why to the reader. It’s a style where the “why” of each thought is just as important as the “what”, twisting and curling around each other. I love dialogue-heavy stories so I had a great time. The characters are traveling by car for much of the book, so the general cadence is conversation punctuated by violence as they run into other candidates, or the few times the narration cuts away to the aftermath of violence another candidate is doing elsewhere.

Mel and Harry have the comfortable rapport of a long-established relationship and even longer friendship. It gets a bit strained at times because they're young (still in high school) and suddenly discovering you have to leave immediately with a kid you just met can be rather stressful on any relationship. Jack ends up knowing so much that at times I kept forgetting she's still a kid, and I was grateful for the occasional reminders of that fact.

This wraps up several things left hanging from MIDDLEGAME, at first by featuring a minor character from that book. It waits until halfway through before pulling in any major characters from the first book, a decision which works very well to establish Harry and Mel on their own, completely separate from any of the very strong personalities in MIDDLEGAME. When they do show up their appearances are important and brief, confirming the stories as part of one larger whole, but refusing to overshadow the Seasons.

This is an entirely new storyline, linked to MIDDLEGAME by alchemical experimentation and the general goal of embodying natural phenomena in human forms, but featuring a new group of characters and a new way of ordering the world. It won’t be the last book in the series. It leaves open what these particular characters will do next, as well as the more general question of what other things the alchemists have got up to, what other forces are pinned to flesh or naturally manifested. It both introduces and resolves the very important issue of the Summer and Winter monarchs. 

This would mostly make sense even if you start here and haven’t read MIDDLEGAME, it’s such a complete story that I think it could be satisfying and understandable to such a reader. However, I definitely recommend reading MIDDLEGAME first, as well as the important but slightly more optional related series, The Up-and-Under by A. Deborah Baker, to know who Avery and Zib are.

As I approached the final chapters the resolution at first felt a bit anticlimactic, a bit too neat and solved after so much effort… then I actually finished it and that feeling is solved by one raising more issue and applying a more definitive catharsis. It fits the pacing and tone of the rest of the book very well, in addition to paying off a detail which was established almost as soon as the book began but hadn’t really mattered yet.

SEASONAL FEARS is an excellent sequel to MIDDLEGAME and a great book in its own right, don't miss it!

CW for ableism (examined), terminal illness, pregnancy, vomit (brief), blood (graphic), violence (graphic), gun violence (brief), suicidal thoughts, suicide (not depicted), injury detail, medical content, medical trauma, torture, murder (graphic), child death (backstory), parental death, death (graphic).

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