August 20, 2010

Retro Friday Review: The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! Angie includes roundups from participating bloggers in her post every week.

I first became aware of Retro Fridays almost a month ago. Several of the participants were reviewing THE CHANGEOVER by Margaret Mahy. The recent popularity of THE CHANGEOVER can probably be linked to Sarah Rees Brennan's wicked funny review and Justine Larbalestier's equally enthusiastic review. I'm pleased as punched that people are reading about Laura Chant and Sonny Carlisle, because they are an amazing couple. But Margaret Mahy has written tons of books. While some of them don't work for me, THE TRICKSTERS may be even better than THE CHANGEOVER.

That's right.  I like THE TRICKSTERS better.

How much do I like THE TRICKSTERS?
  • I once owned four copies.  One for me, three to constantly loan out.  I think I'm down to one loaner copy.
  • Before I owned these copies, I lent mine to a friend who lived five hours away because it was that important that other people read it.
  • I wrote an essay on it.  This essay was for admission to the academic program I'm now in.  The subject can be whittled down to "Why Reading THE TRICKSTERS Is Just as Important as Reading Plato."
  • No, really.
The Tricksters (Collins Flamingo)

Harry, real name Ariadne, is the seventeen-year-old bookish, quiet daughter lost in a large family.  Most of her excitement comes from secretly writing a torrid romance.  One day on holiday, she jokingly marries the sea to entertain herself and her brother.  The next day, three mysterious brothers show up at the house, using names that clearly came from the bookshelf (Ovid, Hadfield, and Felix).  Notably, they all look like characters from her story.  Also, the three men may all be the ghost of the same person, Teddy Carnival - the mysteriously dead son of the original owner of the vacation home.

As Harry and Felix fall in love, Harry begins to realize her own power.  "I can seem beautiful," she tells someone who dares to threaten her.  Felix gains power from their love as well - and neither of his brothers want that to happen.

THE TRICKSTERS is sexy.  Harry and Felix only have implied sex, but a book doesn't need an explicit scene to be sexy.  Margaret Mahy knows that, and this coming-of-age tale is all about human sexuality without ever being crass.

Mahy also pulls off a Megan Whalen Turner worthy twist when it comes to the family saga side of things.  She hides secrets so well that you don't even know you should be looking for them until they're revealed.  This makes subsequent readings richer, as you realize how Mahy shaped the novel, dropping numerous hints while using Harry's narration to direct your attention elsewhere.

Best of all, Mahy trusts her reader's intelligence.  THE TRICKSTERS is sometimes confusing, as Mahy rarely explains exactly what's going on.  You have to put it together yourself.  Often, you have to make your own decision about what happened.  Her writing is heavy on character and atmosphere, which keeps things moving smoothly even at the parts when you know you don't understand everything yet.  Mahy's best works are rich and decadent feasts.  The themes and action of THE TRICKSTERS demand your attention, and if you give it you will be rewarded.

If you're looking for a sexy and intelligent coming-of-age story cum family saga, look no farther than THE TRICKSTERS.  If that's not what you're looking for, you should read it anyway.


  1. Wow. You sure peaked my interest. I ADORED The Changeover, so now I need to go run this one down. Thanks for the great review!

    And I'm mightly intrigued by your paper topic ;)

  2. "Sexy and intelligent coming-of-age story" that "demands your attention"?? I'm in. Great RF choice, Liv!

  3. Hi, hope it's OK to contact you here. We would love to include your blog on our giveaway search engine: Giveaway Scout ( Have a look and if interested, use our online form to add your blog ( ). thanks, Josh

  4. I reread The Tricksters a few months ago and am so glad to see you lauding it: Margaret Mahy is a genius! I'll admit Changeover is my favorite, but then, I'm more of a fantasy fan. Still, not many YA writers working today come close to giving us the kind of characters and emotional density Mahy does in Tricksters. (Maybe Cynthia Voigt.)


Thanks for commenting! To reduce spam I moderate all posts older than 14 days.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...