DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-1179-4
Since the events in Tricks for Free, Antimony Price and her entourage, which includes her fūri (there’s a joke in there somewhere) boyfriend Sam, rent a place in Maine while she mulls over the bargain she made with the crossroads in exchange for her life in that previous book. She quickly meets James Smith, an ice sorcerer who is like a straight version of Iceman, who is looking for a way to destroy the crossroads. The crossroads is the name of both a woo-woo location and entity who is like a talking, creepy monkey’s paw: you make a bargain with it to get a wish, but the price you pay is always greater than you expected. The crossroads had requested a boon in exchange for granting Antimony’s life back, and now it wants to collect: it wants Antimony to win James’s trust, learn what he knows, and then kill him. Of course Antimony can’t do that… can she?
Judging from how That Ain’t Witchcraft features Antimony yet again, I am starting to suspect that I am the only person who doesn’t like this snotty, brash, and anti-intellectual brat much. Anti claims to be a nerd, but I have seen nothing so far that suggests that she is genuinely one. She quotes mainstream pop culture stuff rather than obscure ones like a real nerd would, and her thinking prowess still remains a couple of inches above abysmal on the brain-o-meter. Our heroine is designed to pander to the young adult reader crowd, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by my reception to this snub-nosed duck’s behind.
As for the story, it’s so painfully thin that I wonder whether this is a short story stretched to a painful degree to be a full length novel. Nothing happens for long period of time aside from Anti and Sam making out or characters dropping exposition bombs on everything and anything that doesn’t move the story much. At one point, the crossroads accuse Anti of stalling, and I can say the same of the author. Too much of this story is padding, and in the end, the only thing I can remember from this thing is the incessant making out of Anti and Sam. Alas, I’m not part of the tween crowd who finds such nonsense enthralling. It is a cliché. but I’d rather see Anti hook up with the Coventry bad boy who clearly is letting his little head get in the way of putting a few pounds of lead into Anti’s head, as Sam is so, so bland that he exists solely to be Anti’s talking, walking vibrator. At least Leonard Cunningham is channeling the tedious young adult story bad boy cliché which is, while tired and done to death already, still so much more interesting than Sam’s incessant embodiment of blandness.
There is one simple way to fix this story: have it told from the points of view of James and Aunt Mary. The former can give readers the perspective of a sorcerer looking in from the outside, while Aunt Mary can give the perspective of a crossroads ghost. With this, the author could have expounded on the lore of sorcery, the crossroads, the ghosts in general, and so much more. Furthermore, James’s background story is a compelling one, as is his family history. If this story were told from his point of view, we could have seen him slowly discovering his powers, his complicated relationship with his father, his personal recollection of his sorcerer mother, and so forth. Instead, much of his history is discovered at most convenient moments through journals, and the discovery of his family history just in time to give a loophole that allows the crossroads to be thwarted all feel like one ass-pull cop-out after another – it’s as if the author had put all her energy into scenes of Sam and Anti making out that she only has convenient contrivances left to use in order to resolve the story.
Seriously, if this story had focused on James rather than having him as filler in the Anti and Sam tonsil-rubbing marathon, this one would actually be a far better read.
The bonus short story, The Measure of a Monster, is oddly enough a 180 from the longer story. Alexander Price and his sweetheart Shelby are called in to help the gorgons when they are exposed to the outside world, and this is a tightly paced, well written tale that is both interesting and suspenseful. If the previous story resembled a short story stretched into a much longer length, this is a short story that wouldn’t be worse for wear if it had been a little longer. This story has the old magic of the Incryptid series that drew me in in the first place, while the longer story is a more of a Tumblr-tier fanfiction more concerned with the main characters’ love life than anything else.
At the end of the day, That Ain’t Witchcraft certainly is right, as I’m not bewitched one bit. If anything, it only reinforces my suspicion that this series has reached its sell-by date, with the author cranking up the tedious Buffy-speak to make up for the fact that there isn’t much in each new book in the series. I hope she will prove me wrong in the next book, as this is one of the very few urban fantasy series I still bother to follow, but sadly, I’m cynical enough not to be holding my breath for too long while waiting for that to happen.