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Trickster by Jeff Somers – review
Magic uses blood—a lot of it. The more that’s used, the more powerful the effect, so mages find “volunteers” to fuel their spells. Lem, however, is different. Long ago he set up a rule that lets him sleep at night: never use anyone’s blood but your own. He’s grifting through life as a Trickster, performing only small Glamours like turning one-dollar bills into twenties. He and his sidekick, Mags, aren’t doing well, but they’re getting by.
That is, until they find young Claire Mannice— bound and gagged, imprisoned in a car’s trunk, and covered with invisible rune tattoos. Lem turns to his estranged mentor for help, but what they’ve uncovered is more terrifying than anybody could have imagined. Mika Renar, the most dangerous Archmage in the world, is preparing to use an ocean of blood to cast her dreams into reality— and Lem just got in her way.
What I Expected: I got the feeling from the description and the cover image that this story would be similar to a gangster type of narrative with the lowly tricksters trying to avoid the wrath of the mob leader Archmage. And though the description didn’t say so, the cover made me think that the young girl would become one of their small gang and help them avoid getting into too much trouble. I thought that I would really like the main character for his principles in not using anyone else’s blood for his magic and that the narrative would remind me of the Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman.
What I Got: I didn’t really get what I expected, although in some ways I did. Lem surprised me by being not as noble as I expected him to be, a little less humorous and a lot more directionless. But, despite all of that I quite liked him and realized that he was smarter than he ‘looked’ and that his drifting through life was due more to his dissatisfaction with the world than pure laziness. The narrative dragged me along because I really wanted to find out what Lem would do and what was going to happen to him, Mags, and Clarice. There was quite a bit of action, but it was very much apparent that Lem wasn’t cut out to be an action hero – which basically made me root for him more.
What I Liked: I really liked that the characters were so realistic – they had common, every day foibles, quirks, strengths and weaknesses which made them feel very real. As I mentioned before, the narrative was fast-paced, and the storyline followed a logical and interesting path. I liked that I was surprised by the ending. I liked Clarice’s attitude and strength.
What I Did Not: Well, it wasn’t as funny as I expected it to be – in fact in places it was quite grim. This is mostly my fault, though, for expecting something I was never promised. Not even sure why I expected it, though perhaps I had somehow expected Lem to be more like Harry Dresden, honorable to a fault and full of wisecracks. In any case, I can’t think of anything really specific that I disliked about the story.
Cover Talk: I both like and dislike this cover. It seems fairly representative of the narrative and gives the proper atmosphere and information we need. But, the proportions just seem wrong to me on a purely aesthetic line. There is something about the composition that sits wrong with me, but I can’t really put my finger on it. Of course, that is not really important as the job of the cover is to attract the eye and make us want to read the synopsis – which it does. So, basically, it is a good cover.
Recommend? Absolutely. This is good urban fantasy without some of the bad trappings I’m finding too much of these days. It is interesting, different, and well put together. Anyone who liked Rob Thurman’s Cal Leandros series will most likely enjoy this one too, but don’t expect Cal’s cynical wit.