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Magic for Nothing
by Seanan McGuire
Daw, $7.99, 368pp
Published: March 2017

Finally, an Antimony Price novel! I can't have been the only one waiting for this since her first mention in the series, but it took until book six for Seanan McGuire to make it happen. Presumably, given that the title of book seven is 'Tricks for Free', we'll see her back as the focus of that one too. Life is good.

For those not paying attention, the 'InCryptid' series follows the Price family, an enticing set of covert cryptologists based out of a survivalist camp on the outskirts of Salem, Oregon. They do what they can for the many cryptids living in the United States; they take down the ones who go rogue and kill people; and they keep a sharp eye on the Covenant of St. George, an age-old international monster-hunting organisation from which they escaped a couple of generations earlier, having seen the light.

The series began with a couple of books that followed Verity Price, who combined cryptological work in New York with a minor pseudonymous career in ballroom dance on reality TV. Then we shifted over to her elder brother, Alex, for a couple of books; he worked at a zoo and got an adventure down under with his Aussie girlfriend. Then it was back to Verity for a rather notable fifth episode in the series, if notable mostly because of its finalé, which is reprised here as a prologue. Put simply, Verity outs herself on national TV and threatens the Covenant: 'This is my continent. Stay out.'

Needless to say, the Price family is watching the show and immediately recognise this as a watershed moment. The Covenant is going to come, it's going to come hard and it's going to come for them. They're not stupid and they realise that the one thing they're going to need is someone on the inside, that someone being Antimony, for no better reason than she doesn't look like the rest of the family and wouldn't be rumbled on sight.

I already liked Antimony, just from throwaway comments made by her siblings in their books. She's the youngest of the three Price children and the rebel of the bunch. She's 22, so hardly a spring chicken, but she's lost in the shadow of Verity and Alex. As the mission starts to come clear, she refers to them as 'the heir and the spare' and herself as the 'backup girl'. She's pissed and she has every right to be, given that she's about to be go undercover inside the enemy camp entirely because of the actions of her sister, who, even though she took care of business, shouldn't have been on TV to begin with and they all know it.

We're given three real locations here and all of them are great.

Firstly, we get to see a little of life in the Price household, down to Mary the family ghost and babysitter, who's helping Antimony deal with a nascent talent that she doesn't yet want to share with the rest of the family. Each novel thus far has taken place away from the family home and I'm keen on seeing what goes on there. This one soon heads away too but, for a while, we get something of a glimpse of life at home and that's precious.

Then we hop the pond, stopping briefly in New York for Antimony to bitch at Verity in justifiable ways. She arrives in London, with a single very honoured Aislin mouse in tow, so she can find a particular bookshop in Charing Cross that's a Covenant front and begin her mission. This is fascinating stuff and it's long overdue. I've enjoyed each of the 'InCryptid' books thus far, to varying degrees, but I've wanted this progression since the beginning. Antimony, England and behind the scenes at the Covenant! What's not to love?

After checking out 'Timpani', her real middle name, and training her, the Covenant send her right back to the States. Her cover story is that she was part of the Black Family Carnival, a travelling company that was destroyed by Apraxis wasps while she was away at college; now she wants revenge. She's more than able to cut it in that sort of environment, being a roller derby girl who used to be a cheerleader and spent a decent amount of time in a circus, as a tumbler, trampolinist and trapeze artist, so she's a natural for a mission within a mission.

So, having infiltrated the Covenant as Timpani, the Covenant sends Antimony to Wisconsin to infiltrate the Spenser and Smith Family Carnival as Annie, as people are going missing there and surely it's the work of unholy cryptids. It is, of course, but there are layers to what Antimony can and will do and it's fascinating to watch her figure that out because, in so many ways, Antimony is the character I always wanted her sister Verity to be.

We're supposed to buy into Verity being an adult and Antimony being her kid sister. That's true, but the fact is that Antimony is, in many ways, more responsible. She's also more real, her rebellion having a lot more reason to exist than Verity's sassiness. It certainly doesn't hurt that she's a roller derby chick too, when Verity is into ballroom dancing; that alone gives Verity airs that lessen her viability. What's more, I've never been able to get on board with Dominic de Luca, the Covenant agent who falls hard for Verity and becomes her husband; that whole side of her stories felt too Disney musical for my liking. When Antimony finds romance, it's much better handled in every way.

Those 'InCryptid' fans who've made it to book six will know that one of the strong points of the series is the diversity of the cryptids that McGuire throws into the fray. We get some new ones here, more of which I was previously unaware and haven't yet looked up. I thoroughly enjoy exploring new species that McGuire didn't invent out of whole cloth but which I knew nothing about; of course, I enjoy the ones she did invent too, especially the Aeslin mice: talking rodents, religious maniacs and archivists of all things Price. I won't spoil the new species here but they're as imaginative as ever.

This is surely my favourite 'InCryptid' novel so far. Antimony is a better and more substantial lead than Verity, who is fairly roasted here, and she has more character than Alex, who I like too. She also has the potential for growth built in from the start, which neither Verity or Alex really had; they were already themselves when we met them and they just padded out a little as their novels progressed. This story certainly has a lot more depth than the last one and it balances well with the characters and worldbuilding. It's fair to say that McGuire can and has got distracted from her 'InCryptid' novels on occasion because the Prices and cryptids both have a habit of dominating their plots. This is the best balance she's found yet and she even finds a way to use the word 'tatterdemalion', which deserves praise all on its own.

So, six books in and this series is rocking. I can't wait for book seven. We've got our 'Magic for Nothing'. Next, we'll get our 'Tricks for Free'. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For reviews of previous books in the series click the title #1 Discount Armageddon, #2 Midnight Blue Light Special, #3 Half-Off Ragnarok, #4 Pocket Apocalypse and #5 Chaos Choreography.

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