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By Jeff Somers
Simon and Schuster
Reviewed by Yair Ben-Zvi
Years ago I was working an awful job at a supermarket the summer before I went off to college. While there, and while working, I read a lot. Partly to distract from my less than stellar days, and partly because I loved to read. Two of those books which, among others, I dusted off during breaks and deli lunches (I remember I was eating a lot of deli food at the time) were the first two books in Jeff Somers' Avery Cates cycle, The Electric Church and The Digital Plague.
While the plots were nothing spectacular, Somers had a definite voice and a way with characters that carried and maintained one's interest through both stories. Also he had a way of building up scale that was surprising, especially in the case of The Digital Plague, which I find reflected in his latest work Trickster. He conveys a real sense of the world being pulled first gradually, then quickly, into catastrophe.
Lem Vonnegan (great name) is the eponymous Trickster, a low level magician using his powers to con people out of money and trinkets, with his slow witted colossus sidekick Mags. The magic in this world is powered by blood ('gas' as it's referred to here) where most characters either cut themselves to power magic (Lem for most of the novel) or bring designated 'Bleeders' with them, usually chubby or stocky people, whose entire existence is to cut themselves to power the spells of the magic users.
There's an almost 'Highlander' vibe to the world Somers has created here. Of super-powered beings operating just under the radar of normal humans while still affecting the course of human history, the later revelations about blood sacrifices really do ramp up the scale later in the story. But unfortunately, Somers suffers a few missteps.
The story is dirty. It's not dirty due to illicit conduct but rather it's just, at times, an unpleasant read. Everyone is covered in sweat, dirt, and grime. Characters are starving, desperate, and no one seems contented. Also, the basic idea of the magic being powered by blood, while interesting certainly, is very cumbersome when described in text and comes off as more trouble than it's worth.
Also, repetitious use of the word 'fuck' doesn't always a gritty realistic story make. There were too many instances where it felt like Somers was writing this in his notebook between periods in high school.
As the first in a projected series, Trickster is a decent opening installment. But, ideally, every novel in a series should be able to stand on its own merits, especially the first entry. Though Trickster doesn't deliver on most of its ideas and some of the descriptions and imagery are less than graceful, there's enough good here to warrant a read. Especially towards the end, Somers seems to wake up and bring his talents to bear in creating a rushed, but sufficiently satisfying conclusion. Though I'd be remiss if I didn't say the ending didn't feel like a massive stall for the next work.
So, all in all, it's a decent read. Not a revelation, but there's definite potential for something greater here.
Out of 10: 6.7 or 7.2 for Urban Fantasy Fans.