Tuesday, January 31, 2012


by Sam Starbuck

Colin Byrne is a pickpocket, an artist, and an occasional consultant for the police. He’s also an ex-felon, an initiate into the feral, unspoken magic that only prisoners know: how to vanish, how to tell fortunes, how to steal souls. Now the man who put him in prison wants him to return to Railburg State Correctional Facility to help investigate a case.

Some things at Railburg haven’t changed. His protégé Noel is still the best ink artist in the prison, and their mentor Gutierrez still talks to God. The gangs are still the ones with all the power. But some things are different: there’s a young Blood named Laney who sees demons, and an inmate Colin helped to imprison is poisoning Railburg’s food. With mysterious forces aiming to incite a prison riot and the Aryan Brotherhood constantly harassing Laney, Colin has bigger problems than the one he went to Railburg to solve…

Oh, Sam Starbuck. My man-crush for your writing is truly pathetic. As soon as Sam announced that Trace was officially published, I grabbed that sucker and started reading.

Of course, it’s taken me ages to write this review because I seem to be incapable of gathering coherent thoughts about books in a timely manner. Trust me, I tore through this thing the day I downloaded it. I love Sam’s books.

I have a particular weakness for magical elements in real world type settings, which I feel like I’ve been mentioning a lot lately, and Trace is a world that I’ve never seen before. It isn’t based in the sort of fantasy setting that I’m used to. It’s not faeries and wizards and all that jazz. The magic in this story is gritty and fascinatingly modern. It’s prison magic and city street magic and unexplained phenomenon established in post-industrial mythos. The majority of this book takes place within a prison, but the world of the novel feels much more expansive. It’s one that I would be interested in exploring more, especially in the city where the mojo is less expected and more strange to the characters. I don’t expect anyone to actually write any more in that universe, but I would definitely be on board if they did.

Of course, the characters in this book are spectacular. Sam has a very particular way of writing characters in such a way that they feel like the best things about real people. Not actual real people, because I don’t think real people end up being this interesting when you look this closely into events in their lives, but the kind of fictional reality that you feel in a Neil Gaiman or John Green novel -- the idealized personhood. Colin and Joseph are great leads and the mojo crew in Railberg are the kind of fantastic supporting leads that you want to learn more about.

And because these are such fantastic characters in a world of magical realism, I found myself unable to predict the outcome of the story. That is a huge pull for me because I do tend to gravitate to long series of books and, in series like that, patterns of storytelling become fairly predictable. I’m always excited to get pulled into a story that I absolutely cannot predict.

If you are a fan of stories with magical elements in real world-like settings, I’d definitely suggest looking this one up. .PDF copies of Sam’s books are free to download and read, but if you do read this and enjoy it, I would urge you to buy either the epub copy or the physical copy. All the information you need can be found at Extribulum.

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