Even with four installments, we’re already too far into this series for me to attempt to give a cursory overview of Volume 4 while trying to hide specifics. Those who are caught up in the series will know what I mean. That said, I’d like to touch on highlights of the book in order to spark intrigue while not completely spoiling the more important elements.
In The Familiar, Volume 4: Hades, one encounters (among other things): a teenage girl named Xanther who may very well exist in multiple (or all possible) timelines, knows the names of every animal she encounters (not their species or type, their personal name) and sees dark stones covering the eyes of every person around her which she must mentally “flip” away. Xanther also gets transported to a creepy-ass winter forest with thousands of floating, disembodied stone-eyes marching towards her every time she has a seizure. There are some downright nightmare-inducing page turns in these sections.
Additionally, Xanther found a cat (or is it the other way around?) which is not actually a cat (we aren’t sure exactly what it is yet), is thousands of years old or more, possesses definite (if uncertain, to us) power and for whom something very powerful and very bad is definitely coming.
Other elements of note, rapid fire: three A.I. beings called the Narcons who directly interact with the narrative and provide commentary/references/clues for the reader, glass orbs that are kinda-sorta-maybe computers but which can scan catalogued events throughout time, pink and blue balloons that hold some highly addictive substance (upon which one character named Jing Jing is hopelessly dependent), “The Great Tian Li,” an elderly witch (?) from Singapore who has flown to Los Angeles because she claims the aforementioned cat belongs to her, one very bad dude in Mexico City simply known as The Mayor who traffics endangered animals for the purpose of brutal sport, a Latino gangster named Luther who has lost his appetite and can’t get it up anymore because of (...), an alcoholic, depressive detective named Ozgur, a stubborn little taxi driver named Schnork who is suppressing some extreme grief and a handy new interactive service called HomePorn in which strangers come into your home and have sex in front of you (!!!).
Simply put, this series is insane, in all the best and most intriguing ways.
Something I very much appreciate about MZD’s approach with The Familiar books (and an aspect I’ve mentioned in previous reviews) is that he maintains a balance between difficulty and enjoyment for the reader. These books are challenging at times, no doubt. They’re mysterious, they’re abstract, they’re minimalist and some passages can be utterly inconceivable. However, they’re also heartfelt, dramatic, dark, terrifying and funnier than one might think. I’ve found myself getting emotionally invested in more than half of the nine characters and deeply curious about the remainder of them. To put it simply, The Familiar is a more accessible series and a more approachable read than its basest premise would suggest. To naysayers who might deem the series pretentious, all I can say is that you must pick one up and read it before letting your assessment land there. These aren’t just hard books for the sake of being hard. They’re fun, they pay off and there’s a community around them to help parse out the questions as you go.
With each subsequent volume, MZD is rewarding those who endure with more hints, more clues and (a few) answers, all the while the greater mystery deepens and grows more complex. Imagine if the television series LOST had all been planned out ahead of time and was leading somewhere that actually made sense. The nice part is that the books are each small segments of the larger treasure map being pieced together, (helpfully) referencing one another (with page numbers [even!]) to keep the reader on track and remind them of passages past (passed(?)). It’s all one big mind-bending, reality-defying, possibly simulated and probably multi-timelined puzzle. And the picture is getting clearer all the time, so keep scrying.