By Charles de Lint
Paperback, 352 pages
Max Trader makes guitars and Johnny Devlin is unemployed, mostly friendless, and a shameless womanizer. When the two wake up in each other’s bodies, Johnny is interested in keeping his cushy new life while Max struggles with the mess Johnny left behind. Max must come to grips with the impossible and journey through a world of dreams and spirits if he wants to regain the life he had.
Fun fact, the back of my book has the name Leonard, instead of Max – but throughout the book, Max is referred to as Max. Unless there’s like one sentence that I missed about Leonard being his first name and Max his middle and him preferring Max, I’m pretty sure someone made a mistake! (Tbh, Max Trader sounds way better than Leonard Trader so I’m glad the change was made) This has nothing at all to do with my thoughts on the book, I just noticed it as I’m writing this.
I’m a big fan of de Lint. He’s one of the authors whose work I hoard (and sadly am very behind in reading) so it’s not surprising to me that I really enjoyed this book. He’s excellent at writing urban fantasy with a Native American twist. Trader, like many of his novels, is set in the fictional town of Newford, where the barrier between “our world” and the spirit world seems to be pretty thin. Many of his characters pop in and out of each other’s stories, so there were a few I recognized.
Max isn’t a character I recognized (though my memory is shit, so it’s possible I’ve come across him in other Newford novels and simply forgot), but he’s one I quickly came to enjoy. This book is told from multiple points of view, but Max is the only one with a first-person perspective. Sometimes the change in perspectives screws with me, but in this case, I think it gave a lot of depth to Max’s character. His voice was stronger than the others and, given that he wakes up in another man’s body and is stuck in his life, it makes sense.
The rest of the story is primarily told through the eyes of the female characters in both men’s lives. There’s Nia and her mother Lisa, Max’s neighbors; Zeffy and her roommate Tanya, Johnny’s enemy and ex-girlfriend respectively; and Jilly Coppercorn (one of my favorite Newford characters – please go read The Onion Girl immediately) who works with Zeffy and Tanya and is no stranger to the…spiritual…side of the city. These ladies are all well-developed with clear voices.
De Lint is one of those authors who gives a description of his characters when they come on the scene. As you might be aware, I’m really growing out of this. I don’t mind a little description, but it gets tiring to get the run-down of every character – it pulls me out of the story. Fortunately, once he lets you know what they look like, he really doesn’t mention it again. Except, in this case, for Zeffy. I got tired of hearing about how beautiful she was with her curly red hair, freckles and darker skin. An interesting mix, to be sure, but not one I needed to hear about throughout the whole story.
That’s really my only complaint though, and I realize it’s a pretty minor one. Despite a somewhat slow-moving plot, I was never bored. The story is told partly through the relationships these characters have with each other.
I’d say this is a contemporary urban fantasy (set maybe in the 90s – at least before cell phones were a thing – but yeah I’m still calling that contemporary), but it’s light on the fantasy. Yes, two men switch bodies and there’s a journey into the spirit world. But it feels almost normal (which is what I’ve come to love about the Newford books in general) because the real focus is on relationships. How strained things are with Nia and her mother; the almost father-like relationship Max has with Nia; the way Tanya can’t seem to get over Jonny; Max’s lack of meaningful friendships in his life.
This is a book centered around the theme of relationships and friendships and sharing your life and your happiness with those you love and value. That sounds hella sappy, but it’s true! Max’s journey is about making meaningful connections and having more than just a comfortable life, a hobby, and going through the motions.
If you’re interested in fantasy lite, Native American folklore, the “trading places” trope and lots of female characters, I think you’ll like this book. There’s probably an order to the books in the Newford series, but from what I can tell, they really don’t need to be read chronologically. Really, just pick up any of de Lint’s books – he’s great!