We Are Not Good People by Jeff Somers (Gallery, Oct 7th, 2014)-Warning: I reviewed Trickster a while back, and this is the coverage of book 2 in the Ustari series, which is included in one volume here with Trickster, so there are inevitable spoilers for the first book. If you’re not caught up, feel free to catch my Trickster review. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk!
I was blown away by Trickster, the first in the Ustari series, and if anything, Jeff Somers upped the ante exponentially in Book 2 (or Part 2), which starts on page 258 if you’ve already read Trickster, but hey, I’m all for a seamless experience, so I definitely encourage you to read the whole thing all the way through. I’m going to try to give you the scoop without giving too much away about part one, so we’ll see how it goes. Anyway, the end of part one resulted in Mad Day (rioting, killing, suicide, rivers of blood, mass murder, all over the world-bad news), in spite of Lem Vonnegan’s best efforts to defeat Cal Amir and the even more terrible (if that’s possible) Mika Renar in their coordinated efforts to bleed the world dry and become immortal. Book 2 picks up about 6 months after Mad Day, which has turned into more than a day, in fact, the whole world has gone bonkers and cities have fallen, millions have died. Claire, who was the cornerstone of Amir and Renar’s evil plan has disappeared and Mika Renar is at large. Lem and Mags have been recruited by Melanie Billington, a minor mage, to prepare for war, and they have what Lem has dubbed the Asshole Army at their backs, starry eyed folks that look at Lem like he’s a savior and are ready to bleed at the drop of a hat, but he feels anything but.
I should probably mention that the magic in these books relies on blood, or “gas”. Since meeting Mel Billington, Lem has acquired a team of Bleeders, something he vowed he’d never ever do, and since we’re talking about Lem here, who’s never really had the healthiest self-esteem, it’s pretty much rock bottom at this point, if you can imagine. The world is still falling apart. Griefers, kids that have figured out how to use a Word, bleed, and work a few spells, are running in gangs, and of course constant death on a large scale is still common place. Lem is looked to as a leader, but Billington runs the show like a little general, recruiting Bleeders and recruiting enustari (archmages) to their cause. It’s one of these attempted recruitments that introduces them to the creeptastic Negotiator and confirms Lem as a target.
Let’s get one thing straight: Billington has Lem pegged as a leader, but he feels anything but, and he’s soul weary to the core, but what Lem is is a fighter, and where do you go when you have nothing to lose? He actually does have something to lose, but it might not be what you think, and at the core of this pitch black story is a pretty poignant rumination on friendship that you don’t come across too often in this kind of fiction. There are so many betrayels and double crosses in this book your head will spin, and so many times, you’ll think you know where things are going, but you don’t. I promise, you don’t. Somers presents a near hopeless wasteland as Lem and his team go from NYC to a ghost town in Alaska, to the ruined cityscape of Shanghai, bleeding all the way. Jeff Somers has a very dark, very twisted imagination, and I mean that in the very best way. Never has urban fantasy been so creepy, and at times, terrifying. This is not sparkly magic. It’s bloody and brutal and it can turn its users inside out. Just look at Lem. If there ever was a tragic hero, it’s Lem, and as our narrator, it’s always evident just how much he despises himself, even as he wields the power that easy access to blood gives a skilled user. One would think that what drives Lem is a need for justice, a need to see Mika Rinar stopped, maybe save the world in the process, and to a certain extent…kinda, but he actually has a much simpler goal, a heartbreaking one, which brings me to Mags. I fell in love with the big, stupid, sweet, loyal Mags in Trickster, and he continues to chew up scenery, and my heart, in this one, and, well…I can’t tell you. It would spoil so much. It would spoil the whole core of these books.
If you haven’t discovered Jeff Somers, remedy that now. We Are Not Good People is complex, dark, and fantastically written. It surprised me so many times and at the end, I sobbed like a baby. Don’t automatically assume that means the ending is sad, but hey, don’t count it out either. Somers isn’t afraid to throw in some nihilism, but there’s always a spark of hope, of humanity, even if it’s sometimes hard to glimpse in the darkness. There are so many things…teleportation, towns filled with the dead, some of the most imaginative magic I’ve ever read, infernal machines, and more gidim than you can shake a stick at (you’ll see-talk about shudderworthy.) Regardless of what genres you usually read, if you like your fiction dark and your magic gritty and bloody, this is where it’s at. This is a flawless book (in my opinion), by one of the best writers in the biz. Start with We Are Not Good People and then proceed to binge read everything this man has written. Now. Go.