Series: Ustari Cycle #1
Author: Jeff Somers
Published: February 26th 2013 by Pocket Books
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
From master storyteller Jeff Somers comes a gritty new urban fantasy series starring a pair of unlikely heroes: low-life blood mages caught up in a violent scheme not of their own making.
Lem has ethics in using his magic. Therefore Lem is hungry and broke most of the time.
Ethics in the world of blood magic, however, is a gray area. While Lem will grift his way through life by using small glamours to make $1 bills appear as $20s, enabling him and his none-too-bright pal Mags to eat, he won’t use other people’s blood to cast. Stronger spells require more blood, and hardcore magicians use Bleeders or “volunteers” to this end. Not Lem.
So when these down-and-out boon companions encounter a girl kidnapped and marked with magic rune tattoos, it’s not at all clear that they’re powerful enough to save her…or themselves. Turning to his estranged Master for help, it quickly becomes clear to Lem that not only is this beautiful, strange girl’s life all but forfeit, but that the world’s preeminent mage had big, earth-shattering plans for her—and he and Mags just got in the way.
Trickster follows two down on their luck minor magicians, Lem, who has a lot of potential but doesn’t believe in stealing “gas” from others, and his “nonbreeding lifepartner” Mags. The two met in their late teens when Lem apprenticed and the giant, slow-witted Mags imprinted on him like a baby duck and started following him everywhere. Including out into the streets where the two of them owned only the clothes on their backs and have to resort to glamour and charm just to stay alive.
Enter the damsel in distress. The kind of damsel who has no problem with destroying private property and strangling police officers.
I truly enjoyed the magic system in this story. Power doesn’t come easily, and the price for it is blood. A lot of blood. Want to cast even a minor spell? You better be willing to open a vein, yours or someone else’s. Which leaves us with some severely scarred heroes, with Lem especially anemic for most of the story.
The story is quite gritty, as advertised, which I liked. Explosions. Blood sacrifice. Magical birds made of light. All good stuff.
At parts it felt a little repetitive in the magical explanation department. I understood the theory the first time around, I don’t need it explained to me again three chapters later. What I did have trouble with was the vernacular used for describing the different levels of magic user. The words are too similar and without a better context of what they mean, I read the entire story and still can’t remember which is which. But it doesn’t really matter, the distraction was a small thing.
Not gonna lie, I was drawn in by the cover. I like that the first thing you see is the giant, hulking mags, and then Lem looks kind of like an escaped mental patient and, oh, look, there’s a girl too. It’s pretty much how I am going to remember the story. Loyal to a fault Mags was my favourite, Lem was morally dodgy and, oh, look, there’s a girl too.
Jeff Somers was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. As a child he imagined he would be a brain surgeon, until a spirit-crushing experience convinced him that in order to be a brain surgeon he would have to actually attend school, work hard, and master basic mathematics. After a severe head trauma, he chose instead to write stories and learn the high art of cocktail mixing, and spent the next twenty years in a pleasant haze of fiction and booze.
After graduating college, Jeff drove cross-country and wandered aimlessly for a while, but the peculiar siren call of New Jersey (a delicious mixture of chromium, cut grass, and indolence) brought him back to his homeland, where he got a job as an Editorial Assistant at a medical/science publisher in New York City. Most experts agree that this is likely where the young man went insane.
In 1995 Jeff began publishing his own magazine, The Inner Swine (www.innerswine.com). His first novel “Lifers” was published in 2001, the Avery Cates series, beginning with The Electric Church, was published by Orbit Books from 2007-2011, and in 2013 published Trickster from Pocket Books with a sequel to follow. He’s also had stories published in many magazines, most of which regret the connection. His story “Ringing the Changes” was chosen for “Best American Mystery Stories 2006″ and his story “sift, almost invisible, through” appeared in “Crimes by Moonlight” edited by Charlaine Harris in 2010.
He currently lives in Hoboken, NJ, with his lovely wife Danette and their plump, imperious cats Pierre, Oliver, Spartacus, Otto, and Coco. Jeff insists the cats would be delicious.
In-between all this and writing too, Jeff plays chess and staves off despair with cocktails.