Upon upon a time, Robert Heinlein based most of his writing (some considerably long after he wrote it) on the idea that all realities were equally possible, so that Robin Hood truly existed in some realty and in another reality we’d be in Oz. He called it The World as Myth.
Seanan McGuire in Indexing cleverly riffs off this idea with the idea that every fairytale type, be it Sleeping Beauty or the Cruel Sister, were real and ever evolving as the dreams and nightmares of our collective nightscape. And when these beings shaped by these dreams and nightmares are forced into their full archetypes by The Narrative, the resulting interaction with what I’ll called the mundanes is always bad. So for longer than has been recorded, a shadowy government agency largely staffed by those who’ve been shaped by The Narrative but not forced into their full archetype.
As Indexing says ‘Never underestimate the power of a good story.’ Good advice…especially when a story can kill you.
For most people, the story of their lives is just that: the accumulation of time, encounters, and actions into a cohesive whole. But for an unfortunate few, that day-to-day existence is affected—perhaps infected is a better word—by mimetic incursion: where narratives the rest of the world considers fairy tales becomes reality, often with disastrous results.
A team fighting fairytales made real is certainly not that original but The ATI (Aarne-Thompson Index) Management Bureau is new. According to Wiki, ‘The Aarne–Thompson tale type index is a multivolume listing designed to help folklorists identify recurring plot patterns in the narrative structures of traditional folktales, so that folklorists can organize, classify, and analyze the folktales they research.’
The Team here has an almost Snow White with lips red as the rose, hair black as ebony, nd skin white as snow, A Cruel Sister who almost poisons her Team more than once, A Cobbler who resists making shoes by being their Archivists, a female Pied Piper who’s young and not quite deadly, and a mundane who mostly is a very skilled media flack.
Suddenly, and quite without warning, mimetic incursions go from once a month to several a day, then even more. All because of a most unexpected traitor with the ATI. Relations will be tested and changed forever, The Narrative (and The Monomyth we call realty) will also be changed, and the Story being told here is interesting all the way through.
Indexing was written as a series of separate stories sold by Amazon and later collected into a novel which in turn was turned into the audiobook by Brilliance Audio, that I’m reviewing here.
A spoken story needs a good source text (which this is certainly is) and a good narrator. It got that in spades in Mary Robinette Kowal is a novelist and professional puppeteer. She isn’t a writer I’ve been interested in reading as she writes mannerpunk novels as Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass which are not usually my cup of tea, but her more than merely excellent narration and creation of distinct voices for each characters, major and minor alike, shows that she’s a superb storyteller.
I really don’t want to give away any more of the story so I’ll stop here. I’ll note that it’s not quite perfect reflecting the serial nature of its origin. Yes, I’ve read it as text and it works a wee bit less well than it does here, so I’d recommend the spoken version over the novel.