Magic for Nothing (InCryptid #6) by Seanan McGuire
Synopsis from GoodReads (warning for series spoilers!):
1. Not very likely to happen; not probable.
2. Probably not a very good idea anyway.
3. See also “bad plan.”
As the youngest of the three Price children, Antimony is used to people not expecting much from her. She’s been happy playing roller derby and hanging out with her cousins, leaving the globe-trotting to her older siblings while she stays at home and tries to decide what she wants to do with her life. She always knew that one day, things would have to change. She didn’t think they’d change so fast.
Annie’s expectations keep getting shattered. She didn’t expect Verity to declare war on the Covenant of St. George on live television. She didn’t expect the Covenant to take her sister’s threat seriously. And she definitely didn’t expect to be packed off to London to infiltrate the Covenant from the inside…but as the only Price in her generation without a strong resemblance to the rest of the family, she’s the perfect choice to play spy. They need to know what’s coming. Their lives may depend on it.
But Annie has some secrets of her own, like the fact that she’s started setting things on fire when she touches them, and has no idea how to control it. Now she’s headed halfway around the world, into the den of the enemy, where blowing her cover could get her killed. She’s pretty sure things can’t get much worse.
Antimony Price is about to learn just how wrong it’s possible for one cryptozoologist to be.
I will admit that I was more than a bit nervous going into this novel. I liked the short stories from Annie’s perspective that I’ve read, but I didn’t love them. And I’ve really enjoyed Annie’s older sister, Verity, whom Annie doesn’t get along with at all, the protagonist of three of the books in this series.
But I’m happy to report that my worries on that front were completely unfounded. I fell in love with Annie in this novel. I’m not sure if she just needed a novel to really shine for me or if it was the change in setting – roller derby-focused short stories to carnival and infiltration focused novel – but Annie hooked me in.
When I was reading Magic for Nothing, I found it to be a page-turner. I could put it down, especially early on, but I was constantly thinking about it, wanting to get back to it and pick it back up. I’m used to that with McGuire’s books, though. She’s very skilled at making me ask ‘what next?’ regardless of how I feel about the characters or the plot.
But I’m not sure how I felt about the plot itself. Or some of the side characters. (Mostly Emery – it felt like she just did whatever the plot needed her to do and she knew what the plot needed her to know (and didn’t know what wasn’t required, like the thing with Umeko)).
My main issue with the plot is how completely it changes what the series has been about to this point. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Book 5, Chaos Choreography, upped the stakes in a major way with its ending. So clearly something was going to change. I’m just not sure that sending Annie off to be a spy was the best way to deal with that change. Especially with how young she reads – we’re told that she’s 23-ish IIRC but she acts more like 18-20. That could be Youngest Child Syndrome – and her particular version of it (I’m the Unfavorite) – but if I were her parents I wouldn’t think she was grown up enough for her mission.
However, as they say repeatedly, they need information and Annie is probably the best choice looks-wise out of the human members of the extended Price clan. Plus, Aeslin mouse companion to be her black box. So, in that sense, I understood the decision.
My other main issue with the book at large is how much backstory we were constantly getting from Annie. This is book 6 – most people don’t pick up the sixth book in the series and start reading (unless it’s on accident, something I’ve done before). The important point here is that most of us know the backstory. Yes, maybe it’s been a year between books so a little backstory is okay. But I personally felt like there was too much repetition of it.
Back to good points, though: I thought McGuire did a good job of humanizing a good portion of the Covenant members we met. Not all of them, of course, which wouldn’t have worked for me anyways, but maybe about half of the ones we spent time with. Bullard is probably the only one who had no sympathetic moments and I genuinely liked some of what we saw of the others. And Annie’s burgeoning ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ really drove home just how the Covenant continues to function while underlining the similarities between them and the Prices.
And how can I not mention the Aeslin mice. I still love them. So much. And I loved getting to learn more about them in this novel, even if I had to content myself with only two who were mostly not present.
Overall, another solid entry in the InCryptid series. 4 out of 5 stars.