The product of a long-running alchemical experiment, twins Roger and Dodger struggle to understand their unique circumstances and gain control over them.
In the late 19th century, ambitious young alchemist Asphodel Baker tried to rewrite reality to create a better world. She set in motion a long-range plan to incarnate the alchemical Doctrine of Ethos, encoding her scheme in a series of children’s books destined to become classics. In the present day, the considerably more ruthless James Reed, who is her creation and her killer, breeds twins designed to each incarnate half of the Doctrine; once they have fully matured, united, and manifested as “the living force that holds the universe together,” he will seize their power to control everything. Failed experiments are terminated. Roger Middleton, brilliant with languages, develops a strange telepathic connection with Dodger Cheswich, a math genius living across the country from him. Despite all of Reed’s brutal and covert efforts to keep the pair apart so their abilities will flower fully, they cannot help re-encountering each other and then separating in the wake of tragedy. Their attempts to avoid becoming one of Reed’s failures force them to draw upon their more arcane powers: Roger can persuade people—and reality itself—to bend to his wishes, while Dodger can actually reverse time back to a certain fixed point. With the help of Erin, the living incarnation of Order, they must craft the timeline that allows them to survive long enough to realize their potential. Books that include magic range across a spectrum that puts rules-based, logical magic on one end and serendipitous magic with no obvious cause or structure on the other. This book falls intriguingly far on the logic end; with its experiments and protocols, it redefines what is typically meant by science fantasy. If there’s a flaw in McGuire's (That Ain’t Witchcraft, 2019, etc.) gripping story, it’s that it isn't clear how Reed could really gain complete control over the Doctrine long term, nor why Reed’s followers actually believe that he would cede any of the Doctrine’s power were he to gain it.
Satisfying on all levels of the reading experience: thrilling, emotionally resonant, and cerebral. Escape to Witch Mountain for grown-ups.