Spencer Cain is barely making it through high school but it's not for lack of intelligence. With his mother battling mental illness, Spencer as no choice but to run cons to keep food on the table. This all would have been so much easier if his deadbeat father hadn't decided to walk out one day. When Spencer gets word that his long absent father has died, he believes that at least the man can do him and his mother no more harm, at least until he finds out the truth about who his father really was. It seems that Spencer is half human and half Coyote. This knowledge quickly launches Spencer into a supernatural world that he is scarce prepared to deal with despite the fact that he has spent his eighteen years running cons.
This book is pretty action and plot driven – we hit the ground running. Spencer learns he is supernatural and almost immediate begins charging through the plot at great speed. We quickly get him running head first into this world, pulling of tricks and learning as fast as he can do. We get some decent stories and history from Rourke and some entertaining hints of the nature of the competition between the three races, the sneaky, fun, yet sometimes lethal and serious nature of these prankster races constantly battling for bragging rights against each other.
It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s funny. Did I mention fun? Because that’s the main tone I have from this book, certainly to begin, Spencer is out of his depth but while so many protagonists would mope and despair, Spencer ran with it. I found myself reading this book extremely quickly because it happily pulled me in. It was one of those books where I blink and then see the book has finished.
The downside to this fun rocking charge through the plot is that the story doesn’t get into much depth with the world. Which is a real shame because I really really want to know. I want to know more about the powers of a Bard, the power of stories, I want to know more about the three races of tricksters, their histories, their powers, their natures, I want to know more about the curses
I love the idea that then Kitsune are meticulous planners while the Coyotes wing it and have a lot of luck to various degrees of success and stability. I like the idea that the three races of trickster have very different ways of being tricksters – this is great but I want to know far more about this. We only touch on it in passing and then leap forward to the next part of the plot. It generally works – I can still easily follow the book (though more information about the Sorcerers would have helped) but more would have helped a lot
I find Spencer to be a fun protagonist. He’s a rogue – but he’s not malicious with it. He’s fun, doesn’t take anything too seriously but isn’t so light hearted to be frustrating. His relationship with his mother is also utterly, painfully poignant – having to navigate around his mother’s mental illness, respecting her, loving her but deeply strained trying to support and help her. This really does bring out a part of Spencer’s character that is touching, caring and hurting that adds a lot of humanisation to the character. It’s powerful but there is a problem with mental illness basically being used as character development for another character. But it is extremely powerful – we don’t undermined his mother’s authority as his mother, nor the emotional bond between them and minors having to support parents with mental illnesses. It’s very real, very raw and very powerful
Spencer is bisexual – which is definitely a rare find in this genre. We hardly ever see LGBTQ protagonists in this genre and less bisexual male protagonists, so this definitely interests me
I also really like the way the sex is portrayed, being much more graphic than we often see, but also much less formulaic without unnecessary gender roles or patterns I see a lot
What I’m much less a fan of is Spencer’s sexual partner – Rourke. Rourke is an older bisexual man – and I’m quite happy to see an LGBTQ character be older and be portrayed as sexual and sexy (and not older in an “is thousand years old but looks 20” kind of way). This is definitely a plus. What isn’t so much is that Spencer at least begins the book referring to Rourke as “uncle” and clearly sees him in some level of, if not parental then certainly something close to it. No he’s not family, but he was a close friend of his parents and has clearly watched Spencer grow up. Further, some mojo between them makes Spencer and him especially horny. I’m not saying that it removed his consent but it likely increased the amount of sex they had. Finally Rourke announces his love for Spencer very quickly and tries to pressure Spencer into becoming his consort.
It’s a shame because there’s so much about their relationship that is very realistic untroped and very real compared to what is out there that I’ve read, but these flaws are not things I can exactly celebrate. On the flip side I really like Spencer didn’t run with this. Rourke may apply pressure, even if he is troubled by this, but Spencer knows his own mind, Spencer knows his own heart and we don’t have him fall head over heels with Rourke. His clear happy to be friends and friends with benefits with Rourke rather than to declare eternal love after a few days is very nicely done as it goes against so many tropes.
We also have a trans character with one of the kitsune, Shisko, who is one of the more prominent characters and definitely one of the more capable characters in the book. While she is clearly trans and isn’t stereotyped in any way she is referred to in highly pejorative terms including “mister-sister”. Yes, it’s by a clear villain but there’s no real challenge of his language and being a villain is not sufficient to that. Even when the protagonists learn about Shisko we get this:
I blink. "you're a guy?"
She or, us, he grins even wider.
"Never figured it out?"
"So, do you identify as feminine then?" Shiko gives me a head tilt, and I elaborate. "One of my teachers is trans, she hasn't had the operation yet but we were asked to refer to her as a her, so..." I look Shiko over again. "Well, I'll stick with thinking of you as a her, you certainly put a lot of effort into it, so..."
"You're not shocked?"
"A little , but it takes all kinds to make a world, right? hell, you're looking at a bisexual half-Coyote small-time grifter, and in the last week I've stolen, committed fraud and assault, and nearly killed someone. Who the hell am I to pass judgment?
She’s presented as a woman the whole book – “you’re a guy” is clearly ridiculous. And judgement shouldn’t even come into this.
One thing I definitely want to see developing a lot more is the cultures of the various tricksters especially since we’re looking at some definite POC culture here. The Coyotes are obviously from Native American beliefs but there appears to be no Native American presence beyond Coyote himself and there are only a few cultural references or stories. The Kitsune are much better represented as east-Asian and we have some decent stories and legends referencing Kitsune myth but they’re stories more than cultural references which would be nice to be fleshed out more.
Again, I really like the idea of these three races of tricksters which is such great fun in practice – but it needs more depth. We do have some other POC referenced and as minor characters as well.
In all I really liked this book but what I really need is more. I need more work on the world building to both develop the world setting which I am definitely interested in but also to flesh out the cultural context of the three races including the cultures they’re drawn from. I want to see more of his relationship with Rourke to address some of the history and power differentials and I want to see more of Shiko treated with more respectful terms without erasing her transness.
The book had flaws – but I enjoyed every minute of it – which makes me repeat: I want more. I want it to be better and I want it to be deeper and I want more