Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire

Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuireI was a little ambivalent about Antimony in the previous book, though I enjoyed it anyway. Unlike Alex and Verity, Antimony was still gaining a sense of self. I didn’t realize how much of an effect it had on her character until Tricks for Free. Not a lot of time has passed between them, but her whole world has changed, and her with it. Antimony is much more of a person in her own right in this book rather than just Verity’s embittered little sister.

That’s a funny thing to say since she is on the run from the Covenant and hiding from her own family under a cover identity, but it’s true. This book is about her in a way the previous was not. She’s standing on her own, making a life for herself outside the shadow of her family. I never did understand her “heir and a spare” attitude when they’re stretched too thin and at risk of being wiped out, but whatever she thinks, her actions speak louder. Without her, there would have been no one to uncover this dastardly plot and put an end to it.

Remember what I said about being on the run and hiding from everyone? Well, it’s a sign that she’s a solid person when she bumps into first a person from her high school cheer guard and then a skating buddy. Both are working at the amusement park she’s decided will confuse the Covenant searching spells even with her blood and sweat to drive them. These are people she hasn’t seen for a while, and in the case of her cheer captain, who thought she’d been brutally murdered when Antimony dropped this cover ID after graduation. But they care about her and are delighted to find her. It might seem like a lot of coincidence, and some of it is, but there are reasons we learn later.

Oh, and the story is both about and not about her magic in an interesting way. You won’t find this follows the path of a magician’s apprentice at all. Which brings me to the spoiler revealed on the cover to the observant. Sam is back!

Sam was my favorite character in the previous book, and he’s a wonder in this one as well. He’s both determined and adoringly unsure. A lot of important things happen with his involvement, but I can’t think of anything specific that wouldn’t spoil something. You’ll have to read it to find out.

Clearly, the characters were a major drawing point for me. They are complicated, inconsistent in only the way well-drawn characters–or people–are, and play on the theme of personhood as well as actions define what you are, not genetics.

I ran out of the eBooks from the last Hugo package, so actually read this book in paperback (my first in several years) as we already owned it. I only point this out because it might have influenced my next comment.

The book starts a bit slow, introducing a bunch of characters and showing us Antimony living a mundane life as Melody with the kind of work struggles familiar to anyone who has been at a job. The book also has a lot of downtime. It’s not that nothing is happening, but rather the events seem random with no connections there to start revealing the path.

Well, just when I was starting to wonder if this book had an adventure or action plot at all, the connection between everything is revealed in a backward, sideways way, and all the pieces fall into place. I can’t tell if this is a weakness or a masterful bit of craft. If it had lasted a chapter longer, despite enjoying the people, I would have been close to giving up. It’s dangerous to toy with the reader that much by making everything seem random, but part of why it works is because it’s not author intrusion but living the book as the main character does. We know exactly what Antimony knows, and it would be hard to have clued the reader in earlier without making Antimony look dumb.

It’s a good thing the interpersonal connections were strong enough to support that narrative structure, but once we have the key, the picture it lays out is quite unnervingly clever in a villainous way. Ultimately, the story you’re expecting is there. It just takes a bit to reveal itself and then everything ramps up into high gear.

Possibly because of Sam, but I think Antimony is now my favorite Price. She’s closer to the real world in a way that both hinders and helps her development. I can connect with the roller skating more than ballroom dancing. Finally, I like the way she connects with the people around her. She’s not just a Price, cataloging and protecting the cryptids in her area. She’s a person surrounded by people she can count on as much as they can count on her. Antimony doesn’t negotiate or bargain her way into the help she needs. She asks…or sometimes adamantly rejects…and they stand up for her and for her cause. Not just Sam either.

I guess at this point I am thoroughly hooked.

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