Cryptofauna by Patrick Canning – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommended: For the curious and the open-minded who are ready for something new
For those who will pay attention to detail, appreciate each person for who they are, and hold tight through the supremely bizarre/amusing/revolting moments
Are you allowed to be mad that someone leaves you to die, if they did so just before you were about to kill yourself? Jim is left with that question, even as he’s thrown into the secret game Cryptofauna. Ambiguous rules, yet strenuous training. Randomly plucked allies are there to help him not-die, but there are plenty of monstrosities trying to help Jim complete his original suicide attempt. Sticking to his socks and his bag of smiling ash, Jim rolls through his initiation as an Operator. If he can just get that out of the way, maybe he can stop his Rival from bringing about the apocalypse. You know, if there’s time.
If you’ve read a lot of science fiction, you might be bored of the tropes that come up fairly often. This book will be a refreshing break from the safety and familiarity of cliche, by throwing you details, characters, and situations that baffle the mind — in the best way! I was a little nervous this would be the kind of story that’s forcibly odd, where details and twists are thrown in deliberately just to be weird, even if they don’t add to the story or really make sense. Amazingly, that was not it at all, and I was beyond delighted to see what I had instead!
How many times did I smile? Cackle in delight so that my boyfriend asked if I was ok? Thank god I read this book while on vacation, so the public didn’t have to deal with me.
So – what we have is a uniquely carved game that spans the world as well as generations (and dimensions, too in a way, if you count death). The rules are ambiguous at best, and our MC Jim the Janitor just has to deal with it. You can’t care too much about things making sense when you’re in Cryptofauna. Your characters are the epitome of a motley crew, and I almost feel like we should have started calling Oz Dr. Feelgood. Your goal is… well, again, the rules are ambiguous at best. You might need to tend to some bamboo for a few centuries, or ride a flying skeletal snake into battle.
My absolute FAVORITE bit of this is the unbelievable amount of small details and backstories created, as well as the beautiful callbacks sprinkled throughout. Can we just appreciate the brilliant beauty of that last sentence (with no spoilers, of course): “…they passed through an intersection, its yellow light lasting the normal amount of time.” How could I not fist pump to that?! I came away with a lot of amazing lines that I will write and secretly distribute to my colleagues desks, to give them a confusing-slash-inspiring start to their morning come Monday.
The fifth star is missing only because the end scene felt a bit rushed, though I suppose the name “Guess of the Century” is appropriate for that! Honestly though, this is a great example of how the journey is often more interesting and important than the destination. Even if the destination might be a bond-villain-style apocalypse.
Thanks to Patrick Canning for giving me a free copy for an honest review, and allowing me to ogle the beautiful cover! I made my own set of items that I would use if I were an Operator: