DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-1040-7
Tricks for Free follows Magic for Nothing (get out of my head, Dire Straits), but it can stand alone pretty well for the seventh book in the InCryptid series. Yes, that’s book seven, which means any new reader will be wading into a setting that is already well-established. There’s bound to be some need to catch up and play-guess at things, but really, the scarcity of plot here means that it won’t be that hard for that reader to catch up. Of course, the lack of plot also means that there isn’t much to catch up here in the first place.
Still, I have to hand it to Seanan McGuire: this is basically a story about working in Disney World, and I still find myself turning the page in fascination. Antimony Price, who was insufferable as a try-hard Buffy-speak bot in the previous book, is too busy and too tired to repeat her annoying shtick too much here, which only demonstrates that every teen needs to spend a year at least in retail or customer service hell to exorcise all insufferable tendencies present.
Anyway, after the events of the previous book, our heroine decides to flee and strike out on her own. This way, the evil Covenant folks will not be able to track her to her family or loved ones. She has to leave her Aeslin mice and her budding romance with some hot woo-woo guy, ending up back in Florida to work in Lowryland, the dazzling theme park that people go if Disney World is too expensive. Like Walt Disney, the founder Michael Lowry established a well-loved legacy of animated movies and such, so Lowryland is no cheap dump: in fact, to retain its position as the number two go-to theme park after Disney World, it has to be cheaper (if just a bit) but much better than Disney World. To Antimony, however, working here has other perks: she gets housing and food, and more importantly, she is safe in a place constantly packed with a huge crowd, as even the best psychic woo-woo officers of the Covenant will have a hard time using their abilities to single her out of the crowd from afar.
So… that’s basically eighty percent of this story. Yes, there are woo-woo folks working here, and Antimony fortunately gets to share a room with two such folks and hence, she doesn’t have to go through too much hoops to try to be a normal girl. This is good, as Antimony is an untrained sorcerer and she sometimes have a hard time controlling herself from making things explode into flames, especially when she is angry. But for the most part, the author is far more intent on showing me what working in Lowryland is like. The shifts, the “below the ground” rooms and stations, the annoying customers, the smells, the after-closing shenanigans of the staff, and more. I suspect that folks who once worked in Disney World or other similar places will either have PTSD or fond memories, depending on their experiences, while reading this one. Me, I find the whole thing fascinating despite myself, and hence, I can’t say I am bored despite nothing supernatural happens for the most part of the story.
Somewhat ironically, when the woo-woo stuff finally happens, that’s when the story actually takes a huge dip in entertainment value. The problem here is that the nature of the woo-woo stuff focused in this story requires a certain character to launch into long, detailed exposition involving many paragraphs stretched over the several pages, and the explanation involves all kinds of mathematical gobbledygook that has me rolling up my eyes and pinching the bridge of my nose. And then, the cast of characters led by Antimony launch into some terribly ill-planned attack that sees Antimony blacking out, fainting, and blacking out again in consecutive chapters. I know, she’s not legally allowed to drink, drive, or vote yet, so I probably can’t expect Antimony to launch a perfect assault, but come on. No one else can come up with a better plan instead? Some of them seem to have more experience in doing these things than her – so why do these people just keep quiet and let a child lead them right into a series of consecutive embarrassing mishaps?
Our heroine wins through one of my least favorite plot devices: intervention from characters that show up at the very moment our heroine assumes the “Oops! I really screwed up now!” position, which gives rise to some new but suspiciously well-timed developments to allow our heroine to get back into the ring and kick rear ends. In the end, the urban fantasy elements in this story feel like the filler material tossed in without much thought, while the author spent more time on Antimony’s adventures in retail – an odd turn of events indeed considering that this is an urban fantasy story. I’m entertained by it, but I’m not sure that I did for the right reasons.
There is a really cute shorter story that follows the main story: The Most Holy and Harrowing Pilgrimage. Oh my god, this one is so adorable, it almost makes me forget my dissatisfaction at the way Tricks for Free turned out to be in the end. This one is about the Aeslin mice that accompanied Antimony in the previous book, Mindy and her mate Mork, and how they make their way back home after parting ways with Antimony. We are talking about a trip from London to Portland here, people. This story gives some interesting insight into the Aeslin culture and their views on religion – interestingly, they are rational enough to know that their worship of random people as deities is irrational, but it is this tradition that allows the colony to stay together and function as a strong cohesive unit. It’s like an atheist colony that worship Xenu or something, and the whole thing somehow works. Also interspersed among chapters of the two mice’s adventures are accounts of what happens to Sam – Antimony’s boyfriend – and his grandmother as well as Antimony’s Aunt Mary after the conclusion of Magic for Nothing. This story is, of course, a delightful novelty, but it also has me realizing that I am not averse to reading a full-length InCryptid story featuring the Aeslin mice. That’s not going to happen, I know, but if it does, I suspect the result will be just too adorable for words.