DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-1039-1
Magic for Nothing finally allows Antimony Price, the youngest kid, to get the spotlight in a full-length book. She already got her debut in some short story, but that one was part of a grossly overpriced anthology that I could never bring myself to buy. I could have bought two mass market paperbacks at that price, after all! The story here is very self-contained, with minimal intrusions by other characters from past InCryptid books, so it’s a decent standalone story. Unfortunately, it’s so sluggishly paced that it may put off new readers from checking out the other books. Oh well.
Antimony is the youngest Price siblings, kids of an infamous family of cryptozoologists. The family was one of the proud British clans that took an active role in the Covenant of St George, an extremist group of spook hunters who believe that everything woo-woo must be killed with total prejudice. There is still a Price family in the Covenant today, it’s just that the American Prices are descendents of a couple that broke off from the Covenant to move to the USA and protect spooks instead from both humans and bad spooks.
In the previous book, Chaos Choreography, Antimony’s sister had a grand showdown with a snake god-thing – and seriously, that’s a really bad-ass scene – but unfortunately, the whole thing was caught on TV as it was supposed to a live So You Think You Can Dance-like show. Deciding what the heck, the damage was done, Verity proceeded to talk to the camera, telling it that the continent is under her protection, so bugger off. She’s talking to the Covenant, of course.
Now, the Covenant has a price on the heads of the Price family, and now that Verity has blown her cover, the Covenant will descend upon America. This puts not only the entire family, but also their loved ones and their spook allies all in danger. Understandably, not everyone is pleased with Verity. Antimony isn’t, especially when she is packed off to England to go undercover as a teenage girl seeking to be recruited into the Covenant, in order to gain intel for the family. She knows that she is walking right into the enclave of professional, ruthless killers who would love nothing more than to see the American Prices strung up, so can she pull the whole thing off?
One thing is for sure, I never knew what could have been a deadly school turns out to be something mundane and clichéd, done many times already in young adult urban fantasy stories that revolve around a school for spooks. The characters are all straight out of central casting – bitchy girls, bad boys, et cetera – and the author spends so much time drowning the story in exposition that the whole thing is a slough of a read. Normally, the Incryptid books tend to have fascinating things to discover about the author’s brand of woo-woo creatures, so even if these books get very exposition-heavy, I’m still intrigued. Here, however, it turns out that a Covenant training school is composed of generic “I’m a special snowflake in a special school” clichés, so I’m bored, especially when I compare this one to the last few books.
Antimony feels too much like a very artificial protagonist here too. The problem here is that she never seems to have any coherent personality that isn’t set to “I really, really want to be a character in a Joss Whedon TV show” mode. She has a sarcastic, acerbic response or observation for anything, but don’t count on her to exhibit any believable emotion. For example, she may be angry or afraid in one sentence, but the next sentence will see her cracking out one-liners again. It’s not the girl can’t hold on to any emotion for longer than ten minutes. As I’ve never read her short story, maybe Antimony is supposed to have ADHD or something and maybe I am missing the point? At any rate, Antimony never come off like a believable or relatable teenager. She’s just trying too hard.
Also, I find it increasingly perplexing how the author keeps pushing this “humans are the biggest evil” narrative, when every book we see the spooks doing the biggest harm to humans and spooks alike. Despite all the carnage these spooks can cause, I’m still supposed to buy that humans are the bad ones here, because, you know, racism. Maybe the author just wants the money of those white girls who spend all their time on Tumblr and Twitter seeing racism and sexism in everything, but I’m not sure if that is a wise move, as those girls are too busy typing away on their iPhones that have been assembled in some Chinese sweatshop as there are too many privileged white male racists and sexists to berate and no time to waste on trivial things like reading a book. Whatever the author’s motivations are, the result is a rather simplistic black and white view that never feels justified in the series so far – some emotional conflict would have, at the very least, given this story some much-needed depth.
If you want to read Magic for Nothing for teen young adult tropes, this one may just be fine. If you are looking for anything more, though, well, good luck with the search. This one feels far more shallow and by-the-numbers than the last few books, so the magic is not quite there.