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by Charles de Lint

hardcover edition

Max Trader wakes up one morning to find himself in a stranger's bed. Even more upsetting, he's in a stranger's body. Its former inhabitant, Johnny Devlin, has moved into Max's body and Max's comfortable life, leaving Max with no money, no friends, no apartment, and no way to get his own identity back. The best thing you can say about a day like that is that it beats waking up as a giant cockroach.

Like most of de Lint's recent urban fantasies, Trader is set in his fictional Canadian city of Newford. Newford is the sort of city that Starbucks managers and street musicians dream of. Every other street corner has a coffeehouse or a blues club or an art gallery or a busker; you can't swing a cat without hitting an open mike. Most of the inhabitants seem to be artists of some stripe, either professional or aspiring, and always talented. The atmosphere is occasionally a bit too New Agey for my comfort, but de Lint beautifully portrays the charm of run-down old neighborhoods. In too many urban fantasies (and urban SF, for that matter), the city just functions as a backdrop, but de Lint uses different areas of Newford to set the tone of the story.

I don't like horror, so I was pleasantly surprised that Trader doesn't feature a villain who acts like he's trying out for a bit part in a Stephen King movie. In Johnny Devlin, de Lint has finally written a bad guy who's motivated by pure unsullied self-interest instead of acting as the local Embodiment Of Evil.

The only problem I have with Trader is that there's not much going on beneath the straightforward story. The central message is that we should live life to its fullest; this is very uplifting, I'm sure, but it's the sort of theme I expect in a Saturday morning cartoon.

But if Trader lacks the depth of Memory And Dream, it's still a very absorbing story, and not as dark in tone as most of de Lint's novels. The characters are very well-drawn and very believable even when they're doing impossible things. This is a good book to give to friends who don't read much fantasy. Especially if they hang out at Starbucks.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
April 1997

hardcover edition
Publisher: Tor
Date: February 1997
ISBN: 0-312-85847-7
Binding: hardcover
Pages: 352
Price: US $24.95, Canada $34.95

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Sep 2001 / CMS