ARC Review: Spelunking through Hell: A Visitor’s Guide to the Underworld (InCryptid #11) by Seanan McGuire

I received this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own

I was incredibly excited to receive this book because even though I’ve already pre-ordered it, getting an ARC means I didn’t have to wait until March. I’ll put my standard disclaimer here: this is book eleven in a long-running series, even if you can start here, you’ll be spoiling key elements of the previous books plots, and a lot of the significance of certain characters/events will be lost on you. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but a certain amount will be unavoidable.

The cover i great, it mirrors Alice’s appearance, hints at the tone and events of the book, and draws the eye

Spelunking Through Hell returns to the mishaps of the eccentric cryptozoologists the Price family, who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans. It’s been fifty years since the crossroads caused the disappearance of Thomas Price, and his wife, Alice has been trying to find him and bring him home ever since. Now that the crossroads has been destroyed, she’s redoubling her efforts. It’s time to bring him home, dead or alive.

I really loved this book, sometimes when you’re this far into a series a novel is either a great story in its own right, or a great entry into the series, but Spelunking through Hell is both. Alice is a fascinating character and I enjoyed learning more about her network of friends, allies and enemies. I can’t do this review as spoiler free as I usually do because I’d be omitting half of my thoughts on the book, so I’ll have a spoiler paragraph at the end that you should only read if you’ve already finished the book/don’t care about spoilers.

I was really happy to finally see Alice in her element, instead of her popping in as firepower for her grandchildren. She does it well, but I love morally grey bounty hunters, and it was good to see the price for her seemingly miraculous abilities. I loved the support system she’d built up, proving without having to say it in as many words that a healthy romantic relationship (even an all-consuming lifetime mission style love) isn’t the only thing you should value. I really liked Alice’s friends on Ithaca, and the variety of ways she solved problems. I felt like her maturity showed in her confidence in her own abilities, and also in her blindspots regarding people/methods she relied on, even when it may not have been the best option.

The only minor complaint I had about this book, and it really is miniscule, is that some of the foreshadowing felt a little heavy handed. Other than that, the obstacles and challenges Alice and the other characters faced were believable, varied and entertaining. I loved the way flashbacks were incorporated into this book, and the slow dawning realisations Alice came to, and then fought back with denial, only to slowly come to accept it once more.  

The characters in this book were varied and entertaining, as always, addressing heavy themes like forced marriage, cannibalism, slavery and the ethics of colonisation without becoming tragic or gloomy. There are some clear feminist themes in this book that I love to see, especially given the time in which Alice would have been born. I love the representation of people with all kinds of values/priorities, I think the mark of a good writer is when not all good, strong, or admirable people are presented as having the same strengths and weaknesses. Alice is not Verity with different hair, or Antimony if she jumped through dimensions for a few decades. She’s a fully fledged character in her own right, and I loved getting a chance to know more about her.

LGBTQ+ representation in this series continues to be top tier, and I loved the way various types of relationships that Alice had (professional, familial, romantic, platonic) are highlighted in Spelunking through Hell.

Spelunking through Hell will be a delight to any long-time fans of Seanan McGuire, and I also think this book would appeal to people who enjoyed VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic or The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue; and would also be a good choice for anyone who enjoyed The Dresden Files, Liz Williams’s Poison Master or Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series.

*Spoilers lie beyond this point, read on at your peril*

I was happy that Thomas and Alice were equally dedicated and stayed faithful throughout their separation, and if the aging pause they both managed seemed a little coincidental, I’ll allow it for the story. Any other situation would have resulted in a lot of angst that may have been believable, but would not have been half as fun to read.

I thought Alice’s blindspot regarding Naga was very well written, she’d endured so much at his hand, and known him for such a long time, that she never thought to question him. I’m also glad that the giant snake ended up being evil not because reptiles bad (a lot of fantasy treats races as a monolith, with good and bad characters being defined by genetics alone, something I find pretty boring and unbelievable) but because he was greedy, a far more universal motivator. I also think the ‘you betrayed me and I would’ve made this choice myself if you’d allowed me to’ is always a heart-wrenching dynamic.

 I was happy that Thomas was always unfailingly respectful of Alice’s autonomy, up to and including allowing her to risk her life. He may be from the 20s or something, but Thomas is a feminist. I can’t wait for him to meet his children and grandchildren, and the outcasts that have been adopted in his absence. The possibilities of him interacting with Antimony, Dominic, James, his children, Sarah, his new great-grandchild and honestly any of the Price-Healy’s is a fascinating one, and I cannot wait to see where the story goes from here.

I also can’t wait to see James and Sally’s reunion and interactions, and I was glad to know that they’re both gay so there’s no annoying ‘destined love’ trope. I always appreciate platonic love being treated as seriously as romantic love, and I adore the gleeful LGBTQ+ representation that Seanan McGuire brings to her books.

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