If you have been hanging around these parts for a while, you are aware that I'm a big fan of Jeff Somers' Avery Cates novels (The Electric Church, The Digital Plague, The Eternal Prison, The Terminal State, and The Final Evolution). I was sad to see that series come to an end and I wondered what Somers would come up with next.
It's no secret that urban fantasy has become the biggest game in town in recent years. We now see bestselling authors like Jacqueline Carey, Tad Williams, and a bunch of others giving that sub-genre a shot in the hope of riding that lucrative wave. And yet, not everyone, regardless of how talented they are, can capture the imagination of readers the way someone like Jim Butcher can. No matter how popular urban fantasy continues to be, I have a feeling that the sub-genre has become a bit saturated of late.
I love how edgy and in-your-face Somers' writing style has always been. I had no idea what his take on urban fantasy would turn out to be when it was announced that he would play in that sandbox when he signed a new book deal with Pocket Books. But I knew that it would be different. Jeff somers wrote Trickster with the same attitude that permeated the Avery Cates books. The somewhat noir novel is filled with wit and the author's dark sense of humor, flawed protagonists, and lots of grit. All in all, it contains all the ingredients that make this one another highly entertaining yarn!
Here's the blurb:
Praised by the Guardian for stories that are “exhilarating . . . powerful and entertaining,” Jeff Somers returns with a darkly original urban fantasy series featuring a cadre of mages operating just under the radar of human society.
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.
As stated in the blurb, magic requires blood in Jeff Somers' The Ustari Cycle. The more powerful the spell, the more blood is needed. In light of that, most of history's great disasters were in truth schemes orchestrated by mages meant to kill countless multitudes in order to trigger mighty feats of magic or rituals. With Trickster being essentially the opening chapter of a much larger tale, the author keeps his cards close to his chest regarding most of what has to do with magic. Of course, readers get the basics concerning the use of blood and the need for Words, and Somers elaborates briefly on the hierarchy of magic-wielders. But other than that, one reaches the end without knowing a whole lot about that aspect of the story. Personally, I would have liked to learn more about magic and everything it encompasses. Yet I understand the need to keep Trickster self-contained enough so that the book can be read as a stand-alone. Info-dumps and other elaborations would probably have gotten in the way of the tale and would have hurt the pace of the book. In any event, the way Somers brings this one to a close demonstrates that there is a lot more than meets the eye and that the overall storyline is much more multilayered than we were first led to believe. So I'm quite intrigued to find out what happens next!
We were not good people.In a recent article titled "The Value of Grit," bestselling fantasy author Joe Abercrombie discusses facets such as the dirt physical and moral, the attention to unpleasant detail, the greyness of the characters, and the cynicism of the outlook in gritty genre books. If you are a fan of this sort of thing, then Trickster might be for you. If flawed characters with several shades of gray are your cup of tea, you'll find it hard not to root for Lem. He may not be the sharpest tool in the shed and he seems to possess a knack to make things go from bad to worse, but his heart is in the right place. The first person narrative means that we see everything unfold through his eyes, which makes for a fun and entertaining ride. Problem is, as interesting as it is to spend all that time in Lem's head, it prevents readers from getting to know the supporting cast. Given their importance in the bigger scheme of things, it would have been nice to learn more about Claire and Mika Renar. Having said that, I doubt that the novel would have been as good without Lem's first person narrative. Mags was a bit of a disappointment, however. I know there's likely a lot more to him than meets the eye, but Lem's hulking sidekick is little more than a caricature of sorts in this first installment.
We were fucking incompetent. In all things, we’d failed. We were wallowing in a nice, comfy pit of fucking spectacular failure, deep black and hermetically sealed, me and Mags bound together forever and ever with deep fishhooked ties of ruin.In the past, Jeff Somers accustomed readers to fast-paced, balls-to-the-wall, high octane novels with impressive body counts. Although not as fast-paced as the Avery Cates books, the rhythm throughout Trickster is crisp and page-turning. The more the story progresses, the more layers are revealed, thus unveiling additional, more far-reaching plotlines that will indubitably be explored in the forthcoming sequels. As was the case with Jim Butcher's Storm Front, you don't know much about the overall story arc when you reach the end of Trickster. And yet, you are definitely hooked and want to find out where Somers will take this story next.
A very auspicious beginning. . . If you are tired of the same old, same old, and want a different take on urban fantasy from a cutting edge author, give Trickster a shot. You won't be disappointed.
The final verdict: 7.75/10
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