Magic for Nothing, whether intended or not, has the plot of a classic spy caper: an agent belonging to Group One needs to infiltrate Group Two. In the context of the Incryptid series, it is a strategy that makes little sense. In the five preceding books, readers have been told a great deal about the nefarious Covenant, and about the Price strategy of living in vigilant secrecy under concealed identities. The family is reacting to the shocking events of book four, Chaos Choreography, and their brilliant plan is a Cold-War era maneuver based on information from ‘tradition’ and from Verity’s husband, Dominic, who left the Covenant in book two and was literally an orphan. Let me repeat: their grand plan is to infiltrate an organization based on ‘lore’ and the knowledge of one person, after “two to four” generations of aggressive hiding.
Not only is it an abrupt reversal in the Incryptid storyline, it is incredibly stupid. What about using the resources of, oh, I don’t know, say the entire magical Incrypid community who has a lot to lose if the Prices are wiped out? There’s also ordinary information gathering resources like GPS tracking, spyware, plain stalking, etc. But whatever. McGuire has a plot to move along, so let’s just accept the premise that a group is willing to change “two to four” generations of behavior overnight.
What really became a sticking point for me was the writing. We’re on book five in a series; presumably most people aren’t grabbing it for the first time. If they do, well, it’s fair to weave in some backstory, and as a series reader, I’ve come to expect it. But McGuire is incredibly unskillful resorting to her main character repeatedly explaining these things to herself. She does this not once, but repetitively, particularly in regards to the Covenant:
Page 22: “See, either two or four generations ago, depending on which branch of the family you start counting from, we were part of an organization of asshole monster hunters called, wait for it, the Covenant of St. George… The Covenant felt, and presumably still feels, that anything they considered ‘unnatural’ should be wiped from the face of the planet, preferably with extreme prejudice…” This continues for another page and is thorough enough to fall into ‘full backstory.’
Page 29: “Of course, if the Covenant came for us tomorrow, all the thinking ahead in the world wouldn’t save us.” Stressing how lethal the Covenant is. Again.
Page 33: “Thanks to Dominic, we know the location of three Covenant recruiting facilities in the U.K… none of them will take you without a strong background and referral, but those are easy enough to arrange. The referral doesn’t even have to come from a standing member. They’re so wedded to their ‘knights errant’ self image that if you just show up and say an old man told you to go there to fulfill your destiny, they’ll take it.” I’ll allow it under ‘mission briefing,’ although honestly–your lethal killers will recruit you with that story?
Page 36: “The Covenant is made of traditionalists, which is another way of saying that they’re set in their ways. If something isn’t broken, they don’t go out of their way to fix it. Fascinatingly, being traditionalists working off of a centuries-old model doesn’t make them sexists. The Covenant off St. George has been recruiting women since the Middle Ages, apparently recognizing that sometimes the most effective warriors are the ones no one would see coming. My gender wasn’t going to be an impediment. My background, on the other hand, was.” More explanobabble about the Covenant, who although pretty conservative and regressive, apparently were progressive enough to allow women to fight. But wait–I thought they would accept Antimony on her ‘destiny’ story.
Mind you, this is all in the pre-infiltration. We get a lot more of her thinking about “the Covenant this” and “the Covenant that” once she actually meets up with them and has dinner with them while they hint at killing her.
Oh, I know: you think I’m exaggerating. No, really–check this example out:
“‘Priestess, the Driver of Buses has announced our stop. If you do not wake, I fear we will journey onward to Parts Unknown.’ A sharp tug on my earlobe punctuated the words.
Aeslin mice have remarkably sharp little claws on their handlike paws. When an Aeslin mouse grabs something sensitive, like an earlobe, it’s hard not to pay attention.
‘Ow,’ I muttered, and opened my eyes.”
Seriously now–was that entire second paragraph redundant, or what? Why would Antimony even think that? Why does it need to be written out for the reader? We have the mouse–who we’ve met, and the mice have appeared in every book to date–we have the action, and the response. Why explain it??
Then there’s the Aeslin mouse Antimony smuggled in with her. Despite concealment in her backpack with ‘days of supplies,’ the Covenant doesn’t find it when they search Antimony’s things. Later, the mouse and Antimony have whispered conversation, in the same room as her Covenant roommate/minder/antagonist while her room mate was sleeping. But it’s okay, because her roommate’s snores were regular and loud, so it must be safe.
You never see that plot in James Bond. There certainly aren’t any kind of special devices that might be able to record picture and sound.
Honestly, the infiltration plot was stupid. The book relies on a lot of other material to keep it going, including a poltergeist in chapter one that has nothing to do with the plot, and roller derby practice in chapter two. I was reaching a quit point around page forty when McGuire suddenly followed up on hints she had thrown out earlier, and had a sort-of confrontation between sisters Verity and Antimony. Having a somewhat challenged relationship with my own sister, I was intrigued to see where it would go, but apparently a quick hug and apology solves everything (thanks for tuning in to this week’s After School Special).
Unbelievably logic-impaired within its own world, and with almost every page filled with telling, it wasn’t worth my time. I skipped ahead, was genuinely shocked at the ending–because it again messes with the series’ premise, not because it was good–and decided it really wasn’t worth my time.