Friday, June 29, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Amusement Park Urban Fantasy

Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

Seanan McGuire’s “InCryptid” series just keeps getting better, her world-building more detailed, and her characters growing and changing as they struggle against inner as well as outer demons. Antimony Price comes from a family of cryptozoologists, dedicated to the study, protection, and sometimes containment of “incryptids,” creatures like Bigfoot, but who live disguised as humans. The last episode, Magic for Nothing, sent Antimony undercover, infiltrating the Covenant of St. George (yes, the  dragonslayer), whose aim is the destruction of all incryptids, no matter how benign. While in disguise and investigating a traveling carnival, she met Sam, a trapeze artist whose natural form resembles a graceful simian. Sparrow Hill Road, a related novel, introduced us to the world of road ghosts, crossroads bargains, and route-witches, many of which play crucial roles in this new novel.

Now, at the beginning of Tricks for Free, Antimony is on the run from the Covenant and hiding from her family. As she says:

I never wanted my life to be a wacky sitcom about a human girl and her inhuman roommates struggling to get by at what many people consider to be the second-happiest place in the world.

She’s taken a job working for Lowryland, a not-quite-second-rate Disneyland. Sharing an employer-provided apartment are her friends Fern (a sylf capable of altering her physical density), who enacts one of the many Fairyland princesses, and Megan, a (Pliny’s) gorgon, who in real life is a medical resident. In between the byzantine company politics, trying to stay off the Covenant’s radar and also to not burn down the theme park with her increasingly erratic ability to set fires, Antimony unearths a secret cabal of witches and sorcerers bent upon harvesting the good luck of the patrons to boost their own power. Things go awry as one terribly unlucky accident leads to another. Then Sam shows up, as well as various ghostly aunts, and the plot races right along.

McGuire writes complex, interconnected series in which every (or almost every) volume stands on its own, fast-paced, absorbing, and satisfying. She weaves in backstory and setting with such a deft touch that the reader is neither baffled nor inundated by chunks of indigestible exposition. Although I had read Magic for Nothing and Sparrow Hill Road fairly recently and enjoyed the references, I think Tricks for Free would work just as well as an introduction. So even if you’re new to the delights of the InCryptid and road ghost worlds, dive right in for a great read.

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