Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire

Tricks for FreeTricks for Free

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #7

Mass Market Paperback, 346 pg.
DAW Books, 2018

Read: March 13 – 17, 2018

           There are people who say you never really escape from high school, you just keep finding it in different forms, over and over again, until it finally kills you. Those people are assholes, and should not be allowed in polite company. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
           The room seemed even larger without the safety of the elevator behind me. I took a few hesitant steps forward, wishing I had a knife, or better yet, twenty knives, or better yet, twenty knives and a brick of C-4. Plastic explosives are a strange and dangerous security blanket, but they tend to make whatever’s scaring me go away quickly, so I’m in favor.

Whenever possible, frequent/regular readers know, I like to start off these posts with a quotation from the book that sums up the feel, the character, or just makes me smile. I couldn’t decide this time what to go with, so I used both — one from a flashback to high school which is just perfect for everyone who views it as something they survived, and the other that captures Annie’s voice oh-so-well.

Because of [Spoilers Redacted] at the end of Magic for Nothing, Annie’s on the run and on her own. Her family doesn’t know where she is (and hasn’t heard directly from her to keep it that way), her friends know nothing — she doesn’t even have a single Aeslin mouse with her. She could not possibly be more alone in the world. She lucks into a job at Lowryland — an amusement park near DisneyWorld — thanks to running into a teammate from high school who is an executive there. It’s not a glamorous job — she works in knick-knack shops, does clean up, works in food kiosks, etc. for far too little money. But there’s enough people around that she can hide in and almost no spell or anything the Covenant (or anyone else) tries to use to find her will work in that setting.

She’s living in the employee apartments near the park with a couple of cryptids. One is from her old Roller Derby team, who, as luck would have it, started working for Lowryland around the same time. The other roommate is a Pliny’s Gorgon, working as a resident at the Lowryland hospital. Tying this book back to Half-Off Ragnorack is a nice touch (and works out well for other reasons). It’s not the best life, but she’s content enough, she’s safe enough, and there are good people in her life.

Until things start to go wrong at the park, some magic users discover that she’s hiding there (they’re also hiding from the Covenant, so that works out), and people are getting hurt. Making this a question of can Annie stop whatever’s going on at the park without revealing herself to the Covenant and putting her friends in danger?

So there’s the setup — does McGuire pull it off? Yeah, stupid question. She does and she does it well.

First, she nails Annie’s emotional state — probably better than she does Verity’s often. Annie’s in a very vulnerable place — emotionally, psychologically, physically — and you can feel that.

           I went very still as it struck me that, tight now,l was living like a cryptid. l was hiding from people who wanted to do me harm as much because of who 1 was as because of anything I’d done. That was normal — being a Price meant I‘d had a bounty on my head horn the day l was born — but the isolation that came with it was new. The need to view everyone around me as a potential danger, to hide, it was all new, and it burned. There were dragons working all over Lowryland, and while none of them were part of my personal clique of Mean Girls, none of them knew my name either. It wasn’t safe. It might never be safe again, not until we’d found a way to end the danger posed by the Covenant — and that was something we’d been trying to accomplish for generations.

That vulnerability runs throughout this book — even when Annie’s at her most “rah-rah, we can do this, team” she’s very aware that everything is seconds away from disaster. This brings a richness of character to Annie that Alex and Verity don’t have (at least not to the same extent), if you ask me, this brings Annie into Toby Daye territory and elevates this series as a whole because of it.

You may have noticed a repeated use of the word luck above — that’s purposeful. Luck, as a concept, permeates these pages. It’s not a very clear concept to most of the characters, but it gets clarified by [Spoilers Redacted]. As one more magical system in this world that has a variety of them — that overlap, run parallel, and make a general mish-mash of things, it’s great. I think it’s a clever addition and I enjoyed watching it play out here, and anticipate continuing to affect things down the road.

The major flaw comes in how Annie pulls things off — in humble opinion. Throughout the book, there’s a warning given Annie — don’t do X. Beauty isn’t supposed to go in that part of the castle, Egon warns Ray and Venkman against crossing the streams, Annie needs to not do X. You know that all of those things will end up happening before the story’s done. Here’s my problem: it’s too easy for her to do it she makes the choice too quickly — and I’m not sure it was necessary when she did it (it may have been, this may have been a rare-stumble for McGuire where she didn’t make it clear that things were just that dire). I do know that if it’s something Annie felt the need for here, Verity sure should’ve done it back Chaos Choreography. But whatever, I’m over it — I just want to see how it plays out in the future.

One highlight for that I really can’t get into without ruining the first twelve chapters — but there’s a conversation in Chapter 13 catching up every character in Annie’s little circle with who’s who, what’s going on right now and since the last time they talked (hours or months ago), etc. This conversation just might be my favorite thing of March — reading or in Real Life™ — and it’s been a very good month. It’s just a pure joy to read.

By the way, the lack of Aeslin mice absolutely is felt throughout the book — the absence is supposed to make things feel strange, and it does. But never fear — there’s a novella starring the mice from Magic for Nothing at the back of this book. I hope when I have time to read it that it makes up for their absence.

Oh, and there’s a Priscilla Spencer map of Lowryland. Because what isn’t made better by a Priscilla Spencer map?

This is a great addition to a very fun series that adds some good depth to things, sets up our characters for a lot of trouble, and moves the series’ story as a whole down an interesting path. The next book also features Annie, but I’m sure we get back to Alex or Verity soon, and I can’t wait to see how these books without them affect their lives.

—–

4 Stars

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Magic For Nothing by Seanan McGuire

Something — time constraints, distractions, deadlines, big shiny things in the corner — kept me from finishing this post last year. I tried every now and then to finish it, but at a certain point my copious notes weren’t enough. Thankfully, reading the next book in the series helped me remember enough that I thought I could finish this post. It’s not everything I wanted it to be, but short of a re-read, nothing was going make it that.

Magic For NothingMagic For Nothing

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #6


Mass Market Paperback, 358 pg.
Daw Books, 2017
Read: Mach 18 – 21, 2017

And you shouldn’t believe all the press about Ouija boards. They can’t be used in an exorcism. Trivial Pursuit can, but that’s another story.

This has nothing to do with the story, I just really liked that line. It comes from one of the best (probably the best, I don’t keep notes on that) openings to an InCryptid novel that McGuire’s done yet.

So after Verity declared war on the Covenant in the closing pages of Chaos Choreography, the Price family has to follow suit and step things up. Their first step? Having Antimony go undercover with the Covenant as a new recruit. This could be a suicide mission but she knows it’s the best shot to understand what’s going on with the Covenant and their plans for the United States.

You could make the claim that Annie’s infiltration of the Covenant is a little too easy — but why? It’s far more interesting for her to have infiltrated the Covenant and get assigned for a probationary task quickly than it would be for there to be a realistic screening and training process — I’m sure McGuire could have pulled it off, because what can’t she write? But this was better. Very quickly the Covenant comes up with an assignment that’ll test her loyalty and maybe score them some dead American monsters. Part of Annie’s cover is that her circus family was wiped out by a bunch of somethings and she wants revenge, the Covenant has wind of a monster or two at a circus in the midwest killing people in the towns it visits. Her assignment: infiltrate the circus, find the responsible creatures (and any others) and call in her handlers to wipe them all out.

So she’s going undercover as part of her undercover assignment. Thankfully, she’s had multiple aliases since she was a wee girl, so she’ll probably be able to keep her names straight.

Once she gets there, she finds more than one person that the Covenant will want killed just for being — so Annie has to figure out how to keep that from happening and keep her cover intact long enough that she can learn something for her family.

I loved the circus atmosphere, I pretty much always do, come to think of it. As is her norm, McGuire’s cast of characters for the Price adventures, is a whole lot of fun. But I think she stepped her game up with this one — even her Covenant characters have a bit more going for them than her normal baddies. But the key to this novel being so entertaining is Annie. We’ve seen her a little bit here and there throughout the series, but never for very long. She’s just great. Her attitude, gumption, grit and talents make for a fun character. The complicated hero-worship/jealousy thing she has going on regarding Verity (not so much with Alex, but a little bit) is a nice realistic and humanizing touch. I’m not going to blather on about her too much, but of the siblings, I think she’s my favorite.

The big climatic battle and the aftermath from that setting up at least the next novel? Thick, rich icing on an already tasty cake.

Oh, the mice. How did I get this far without mentioning the mice? The Aeslin mice are a great source of laughs as well as heart throughout this series — but man, this time Mindy (Annie’s Aeslin companion) really got me. I was moved. I . . . well, yeah,let’s just leave it there. Mindy’s just great.

If there’s one thing in this world that I know I can rely on, it’s the joyous cheering of the Aeslin mice.

Ditto, Annie, ditto. Joyous cheering of Aeslin mice and Seanan McGuire’s writing — wholly reliable. If you haven’t gotten around to picking up this volume of the InCryptid series yet, you need to. It’d make an okay jumping on point, too — but a lot of the little things won’t mean as much to you as they should. Still, I think it’d convince you to go read the earlier books.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed SoulsShadowed Souls

edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes
Series: The Dresden Files, #14.5; InCryptid, #531; Simon Canderous, #0.5 (I’m guessing) ; and some others that I don’t have a tag for right now

Paperback, 330 pg.
Roc, 2016

Read: January 10, 2017


This is a collection of stories

based on the idea that good and evil are just two aspects of a complicated and very human story . . . [with plots that] play with the concept and invite the reader to explore the edges of their own darkness.

Eleven of the best Urban Fantasy authors working today contributed to this book, each bringing their worlds to life from that basis.

I’m not going to talk about each story, just about those from authors I talk a lot about here — I don’t have the time and energy to talk about Kevin J. Anderson, Kat Richardson, Tanya Huff or the others. If for no other reason, I feel like I should read more of these series/characters/authors before talking about them — many of whom are on my “Try Out Sometime” list.

We, like the book, have to start with “Cold Case” by Jim Butcher. Harry’s former apprentice, Molly, gets to shine in this story. This is one of her first tasks in her new role as Winter Lady — in Alaska, fittingly enough. There’s a large amount of on-the-job training going on for her — more than she bargains for, really. We also get to spend some time with Warden Carlos Martinez — been too long since we saw him. Perfect mix of action, humor and atmosphere — we also get a good idea what’s in store for poor ol’ Molly.

We got to meet another member of the Price family in Seanan McGuire’s “Sleepover”. Elsie Harrington is a half-succubus cousin to Verity, Alex and Antimony. Their presence is felt in the story, but other than a couple of name-drops, they don’t factor into things, it’s just in that series’ universe. Elsie’s watching Antimony in a roller derby match and finds herself kidnapped. Not for any nefarious reasons — just because some people needed her help and are bad at asking for favors. Elsie has a very Price-like voice and outlook on life, but she’s got her own way of doing things. I really enjoyed this — even if the ending felt abrupt.

Anton Strout got to revisit the series that gave him his start in “Solus,” which featured Simon Canderous as a rookie DEA Agent dealing with a haunted house. His partner/mentor, Connor Christos, has almost no use for him at this point and seems to have no interest at all in working with him/training him. Maybe I’m not remembering the character as clearly as I thought, but I thought I liked him as a person more. Still, this was early enough in the relationship that it was probably the right way to deal with it. Other than happening before I was ready for it, I really enjoyed the conclusion of this story. In short, “Solus” was good, it reminded me why I liked the series and why I miss it.

My one complaint about all these stories (save for “Cold Case”), was that they were too short. It’s not just Strout and McGuire. In all the stories, just as things started to get going, they resolved. I’m not saying I wanted a collection of novellas, but another 5-10 pages each, maybe?

Yeah, like all collections, you’re going to get some that just don’t work for a particular reader, and others that are going to get a reader pumped – and maybe one that’ll make you wonder why you bothered. Your lists of each will be different from mine — but there’ll be more than enough of the good ones to make it worth your while. You may even find a new series/author to check out.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire

Chaos ChoreographyChaos Choreography

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #5

Mass Market Paperback, 345 pg.
DAW, 2016

Read: March 24 – 25, 2016

Hey, wow, who’d have thunk it — a positive review of a Seanan McGuire novel from The Irresponsible Reader?!? Next thing, I’ll be telling you that the sky is blue, water is wet and J. J. Abrams likes lens flares. But what do you want from me? Seanan McGuire is a great author who consistently puts out fun reads. The only reason that she hasn’t taken over the world yet is that she doesn’t want to.

Oh, spoiler alert: I’m probably going to be giving very positive reviews to two other McGuire works in the next week or two.

So what can I say about this one? It’s probably the most enjoyable, most entertaining, most emotionally resonant, best all-around entry in the InCryptid series to date.

Verity and Dominic are living with her parents, which is going about as well as you could expect, and trying to get used to life outside of NYC when Verity gets a call from the reality show she came thiiiiiis close to winning before we met her in Discount Armageddon (well, her cover identity got a call, technically). They’re doing a best-of season, and need her to round out the cast.

Next thing they know, they’re working up a new cover for Dominic and heading for L. A. Where we meet Verity’s long-lost besties, a would-be frenemy (if anyone took her seriously), and a few cryptids.

We get the return of the lady Dragons — both the group we met in Discount as well as L.A.’s very own, plus a few others. The cryptid cultures of L. A. (and the West in general) developed in very interesting ways. Sadly, one of the things that seems to be pretty popular are snake cults — there’s one that seems to be pretty serious about things and are using human sacrifices to power a spell.

Which means that Verity has to do a little more than just dance, she has to find the cultists before it’s too late. She calls upon friends new and old, Dominic, even the Aeslin mice and a Price that we’ve heard of, just never met. Leading to a final confrontation that’s one for the ages — and nothing will be the same again for the Prices family. I’m not so sure that it’ll be the same again for anyone.

I’d happily read about any and all of the new cryptids we meed here again, and most of the humans, too (not the evil ones, just for the record). McGuire’s assembled a great bunch of characters for this one.

I love the fact that not only do we get to see the Aeslin mice developing new religious celebrations, but we see them in action — putting their tiny little lives on the line to save the day. I also like to see Verity coming to grips with the choices she’s been making the last few years, what that means for her, and what place dancing and the rest have in her life.

Major kudos to McGuire for getting me to give a rip — not much of one, but still — about dance competitions. I don’t get dance — I mean dancing, I get. I’m no good at it, but I get. But watching dance — any form – I just don’t see the appeal. But for a few pages here and there I was almost interested in Verity’s other career. That’s a pretty major accomplishment.

Now I’ve just got to settle in and wait a year for lil’ sister Antimony’s first novel. Is it 2017 yet?

—–

4 Stars

Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

Pocket ApocalypsePocket Apocalypse

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #4


Mass Market Paperback, 341 pg.
DAW, 2015
Read: March 14 – 17, 2015

Airplanes: essentially buses that fly, and hence have the potential to drop out of the sky at any moment, spreading your insides — which will no doubt become your outsides sometime during the collision — across whatever you happen to have been flying over. Since we were flying mainly over ocean, I was sure the sharks would appreciate our sacrifice.

So where, pray tell, are Alex and Shelby flying off to? Her home country of Australia, to help out her family and the cryptozoologist group/alliance/whatnot they’re part of deal with the continent’s first outbreak of the werewolf virus. Unlike everyone else there, Alex has dealt with werewolves before, and he’s a Price — that has some benefit (although how much is debatable, as he soon learns). He’s also going to meet Shelby’s family for the first time. It’s pretty unclear which of these two items are the most hazardous to his health.

We’ve had a lot of exposure to the idea that the Price family isn’t like the Covenant — in motives or means. Now we’re introduced to the Thirty-Six Society, who aren’t as nasty as the Covenant is to cryptids; but nowhere near as interested in understanding and cooperating with them as the Prices are. Also, they’re not so sure that the Price’s are all that different than the Covenant (which is really odd to think about from the point-of-view of the reader). So, all told — they’re not to interested in a know-it-all Price coming in from the U. S. to tell them how to take care of a problem. Particularly when that Price is sleeping with one of their own, and perhaps leading her away from them.

I did tire a bit — more than a bit, to be honest — with the way that Alex and various members of the Tanner family had the same conversation over and over about his allegiances, intentions toward Shelby, and methods. I realize in Real Life™ that you do repeat yourself, but so much of these conversations were essentially “second verse, same as the first,” and got pretty darn tiring. It would’ve been better if Alex wasn’t quite as right as he was all the time, too.

But that’s the backdrop, really. The very real likelihood that Australia is going to be overrun with werewolves in the coming weeks is the main concern (although I’m not convinced the word count would reflect that). With so much exposure to Patricia Briggs and Carrie Vaughn (not to mention Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Kevin Hearne, and so on) it’s easy to forget that werewolves used to be a horror movie staple. Leave it to McGuire to remind me that werewolves are generally thought of as monsters. These werewolves are pretty monstrous, and what they do to their victims isn’t pretty.

We don’t see as many of the native cryptids as we get hints of them — the couple that we do see are pretty interesting, but I could’ve used more. As with any inCryptid novel, you have to talk about the Aeslin mice. If for no other reason than they’re fun. This is probably their best showcase yet — they’re more than comic relief here, they help out — in a way that Alex could never have predicted. Some of the raw-est emotion (and not just joy and rapture over a new religious observance) comes from these little guys. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever tire of these mice.

Occasionally, the humor feels forced — as if McGuire’s done a word-count since the last quip and shoves one in. This is typical for the series, and still occasionally works, oddly enough. But McGuire’s narrative flows better — and is funnier — when she allows the humor to flow naturally (as much as anything as crafted as one of her books is “natural”) and not imposed on the text.

This novel contains the word “denuded” more than I can recall ever seeing in a single work — there was one chapter, in fact, that nailed that record — but “denuded” showed up later, too. It doesn’t matter one way or the other, but it showed up so frequently (and so rarely anywhere else) that it couldn’t help but make an impression.

I don’t know why, but it took me forever to really “get into” this one. From page 1 it looked interesting and entertaining, but I kept putting it down after a half a chapter or so. When it did pick up, I didn’t take the time to jot it down because I didn’t want to stop reading, but I think it was a little after page 100. From that point on, I was into it the way I expected to from the get-go, and it kept my interest to the end. I think I like this more than the others (maybe Discount Armageddon was as good), and really look forward to the next one — it’ll be good to see Verity again.

—–

4 Stars

Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid, #3)Half-Off Ragnarok

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #3


Mass-Market Paperback, 356 pg.
DAW, 2014
Read: March 21 – 22, 2014

I — like a number of people, I expect — approached this one with a sense of trepidation and a laundry list of questions: No Verity? We’ve got to start over with some other guy? Why? What did we do wrong? Why is Seanan punishing us like this? How are we supposed to get along without the Aeslin mice? (good news and minor spoiler: Alex has his own colony of them — Seanan doesn’t hate us). After about 50-60 pages, I’d admitted that McGuire knew what she was doing (how could I doubt that?) and that Half-Off Ragnarok served as a good jumping-on point for the series, or good next entry for those who’d been following it already. Alex has a similar voice to Verity, but it is different — close enough that they could be siblings, though.

The story, particularly its central mystery, was just okay. But the setting and the characters elevated the whole thing. They sold me on what was going on, and once the narrative got flowing, I didn’t notice how not-stellar the story was (I’m not saying it was bad, it just didn’t knock me out). Having a cryptozoologist working in a zoo — and doing field research nearby, gave this a different feel from Verity’s nightclubs and sewers — like maybe there was something less haphazard about it this endeavor.

But more than anything else, the characters are what sell this story. There’s Alex’s Gorgon assistant, Dee; a little girl I won’t describe for your sakes here (you want to discover her eccentricity on your own); there’s Alex’s grandparents; his pet griffin, Crow; the aforementioned Aeslin mice; and the knock-out blonde Australian who works at the same zoo that he does. Best of all, his and Verity’s cousin, Sarah. She’s staying at their grandparent’s home for awhile to recover from what happened to her at the end of Midnight Blue-Light Special — well, hopefully recover, anyway. Sarah’s presence helps link the installments of the series together, helps us trust Alex more right away for the way her treats her.

A couple of notes about this world McGuire’s building here. Without getting into details, it was very nice to see that there are options other than the Prices and the Covenant for humans who are aware of the cryptozoological populations, it makes it all a little less David and Goliath. The other thing that’s highlighted here is just how different groups/species view the Prices. Which isn’t exactly all positive — there’s suspicion, distrust, antagonism, begrudging respect — along with more positive views. I got that impression during the Verity books, but it’s underlined here. This is a fun world, and it’s nice to see it fleshed out.

I like Alex, and would gladly read more of his adventures–at home or abroad. I would also like to check in on Verity again — and soon — as she was our entry point into this world, but it’s possible I like Alex more at the end of the day. Unlike Verity, he’s all in when it comes to this work, and doesn’t spend so much time wanting to do something else. Although, Verity’s conflict between her duty/interest in cryptozoology and love for dance is one of the things that makes her interesting. Never mind, my guess is that my favorite Price sibling is whichever one I’m reading/just finished reading. Just give me more of both of them.

—–

4 Stars