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Trickster by Jeff Somers

trickstercoverIt’s the mark of a good fantasy when whatever powers the characters have–whether it’s magic or shape-shifting or eternal life–there’s a price. There’s no free lunch. I lose interest pretty quickly if things come too easily for the hero, even if he has superpowers. That’s why I loved Jeff Somers’ recent addition to the urban fantasy landscape, Trickster.

Trickster is the first installment of Somers’ Ustari Cycle, and it’s well worth checking out. Somers has created a magic system in which spells are fueled by blood and mages use donors–some willing, some unwilling–to work their magic. The bigger the spell, the more blood you need, and so the most powerful mages end up being murderers. The refrain “We are not good people” comes up over and over again in the book, and Somers doesn’t mean that lightly. Even our hero, the scrappy and resourceful Lem, has moments that made me cringe in disappointment even while I cheered for him to win.

The dark, blood-based magic system is the  centerpiece of Somers’ world building, but he does an exemplary job with the details of his universe, too. Everything is drawn effortlessly: The horrific underbelly that inevitably results when power can be bought with other people’s blood, the equally horrifying upper magical crust, the caste-like organization of mages… even the slang feels organic. (Blood = “Gas”, for example.) There’s a bit of a wink and a nudge to the magic of writing, too: Lem often reflects on how his quick way with “the Words” gives him an edge over more powerful mages.

While we’re talking about world-building, this is an urban fantasy that takes the “urban” part seriously. We feel every gritty back alley of Trickster‘s somewhat altered New York City. The bars, squats, mansions and lairs all felt creepily familiar, which made the magically conjured firebirds even more fantastical.

What about you, readers? Have you read Trickster? Any other gritty-dark urban fantasies to recommend?

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17 thoughts on “Trickster by Jeff Somers

  1. No, I have not read it, nor do I want to. The dark and gritty is not for me. If you really like that, I do recommend Yasmine Galenorn – Indigo Court series. I read the first one, but can’t handle it, so as much as I love her other books, I won’t read this series.

    • If you don’t like dark & gritty, this book is definitely not for you. 🙂 I’m not always in the mood for this flavor of urban fantasy, but Somers does it well. I checked out the blurb for the first book in the Indigo Court series–it definitely looks grim. I’ll have to put it on the list for when I’m in the mood for something darker. Thanks for the rec!

  2. I think I’ll give it a try. I’m glad to see more male perspectives showing up in the UF genre. I tend to want my fairytale happy endings most of the time, but we need some fresh blood to keep things interesting. Like you, I think it’s just too easy most of the time for the characters to develop and use their “super powers” with no actual consequences.

    • I agree on the male perspective in urban fantasy. I love how diverse the genre is, and I think the more kinds of voices we have, the better. I’m not sure if UF has more female authors because it has roots in romance, or if books by men tend to get classified as something else (like science fiction or just plain fantasy). Two other male UF authors I like are Kevin Hearne and MLN Hanover–different from Somers and from each other, but both very good.

      • I also enjoy Kevin Hearne’s books, but those are certainly not dark and gritty, but fun and light although lots of “people” get killed.

  3. A.J. It’s funny to see this book here because I stumbled upon it months ago by doing a search on trickster novels. I have a thing about tricksters, thanks to my thesis advisor in seminary. I couldn’t figure out how the traditional trickster mythos played into the book, from the blurb though. Any thoughts? Either way, it sounds great! Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Ooo, I’ll be interested to hear what you think of it! I’m not sure how it compares to the traditional trickster mythos. Those tricksters are more like prank players who give people their just deserts, right? (I’m totally pulling that from an episode of Supernatural. Well read over here, mm-hmm.) Anyway, this trickster may be more of a low rent con man, but he’s definitely clever.

  4. Read your post and bought the book. It reminds me a lot of my current work in progress. Instead of mages, I use dhampir but their abilities are blood based as well. It’ll be interesting to compare the two. Thanks for posting this.

    • I hope you enjoy it! How cool that you’re working on a similar sort of world. I stopped by your blog… is COMMUNION adult or YA? Best of luck with your upcoming release!

      • Thanks. Communion is YA for the first book. But, because I want to push the moral limits, the second book starts with the main character in college.

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