Trickster (Ustari Cycle, -1) by Jeff Somers

Trickster (Ustari Cycle, #1) by Jeff Somers

Ustari Cycle series by Jeff Somers. 


Genres and Sub-GenresEdit

Urban Fantasy—dark and gritty

Series Description or Overview Edit

Magic uses blood—a lot of it. The more that’s used, the more powerful the effect, so mages find “volunteers” to fuel their spells. Lem, however, is different. Long ago he set up a rule that lets him sleep at night: never use anyone’s blood but your own. He’s grifting through life as a Trickster, performing only small Glamours like turning one-dollar bills into twenties. He and his sidekick, Mags, aren’t doing well, but they’re getting by.

That is, until they find young Claire Mannice— bound and gagged, imprisoned in a car’s trunk, and covered with invisible rune tattoos. Lem turns to his estranged mentor for help, but what they’ve uncovered is more terrifying than anybody could have imagined. Mika Renar, the most dangerous Archmage in the world, is preparing to use an ocean of blood to cast her dreams into reality— and Lem just got in her way.~ Goodreads | Trickster

Primary Supe Edit

Mages / Sorcerers

What Sets it ApartEdit

All magic is fueled by blood, lots of blood—the more blood, the bigger the ‘trick’. It's like money creating a severe hierarchy and power plays among mages.

Narrative Type and Narrators Edit

Books in Series Edit

Ustari Cycle series:

  1. Trickster (Feb 26, 2013)
  2. We Are Not Good People (Expected pub: Oct 7th 2014)
  • Fabricator" (Oct 2013) eBook (384 pages)

Shorts, Anthologies and GuidesEdit

  • 0.5. "Fixer" (2014) eShort prequel (42 pages)
  • "Mageshkumar" (2013) eShort (80 pages)

World Building Edit


New York City

Supernatural ElementsEdit

Mages/sorcerers, archmage, blood magic, Glamours, invisible rune tattoos, glamour mages, super-powerful artifact,


  • Trickster: how the low-ranking, barely enough skill for a glamour mages refer to themselves
  • Gas: Blood used to fuel magic is referred to as 'gas'; 
  • Rule of Volume: the more blood, the bigger the magic
  • Cantrip: Spell, all requiring blood
  • Enustari: arrogant Archmages—with unbelievable power
  • Saganustari: less power
  • Ustari: Lower-level mages, mostly grifters
  • Idimustari: "tricksters"—at the very bottom of magical society, mostly grifters
  • Udug: magical artifact—allows its user to foresee future events; Lem took it;


  1. the Rule of Perception and
  2. the Rule of Volume . . . which boils down to the more blood, the bigger the ‘trick’


In this world, all magic is fueled by blood—lots of blood. Here's an early (very mild) example:

"I...fished in my jacket pocket, produced a fresh bandage, and began working the thin wrapper free, difficult due to the damp and soiled bandages that adorned all nine of my other fingers and the fresh slice oozing blood on my index finger. Faint sparks of pain flared from my fingertips as I worked at it." (p. 4)

Every time a spell (aka Cantrip) is cast, the caster slices his—or someone else's—palm or wrist or arm, so all magic users are covered with wounds and scars in various stages of healing—or infection. The mages, or sorcerers, with the greatest power maintain their own crew of "bleeders," who "voluntarily" open a vein whenever their master needs to cast a spell. Those with less magical talent must rely on their own blood supply.

Mages exist outside the parameters of normal human society, and they have their own strictly ordered caste system. At the top are the enustari, arrogant Archmages with unbelievable power who use their talent to make life as comfortable as possible for themselves and their crew of "bleeders." Below the Archmages are the saganustari and the ustari, who have less power. At the very bottom of magical society are the idimustari, who are called "tricksters." Lower-level mages, like the Tricksters and the ustari, can produce simple spells, but they have only a fraction of the power of the higher levels of mages. Tricksters and ustari are mostly grifters, performing Glamours, like changing $1 bills into $20s (just long enough to make a purchase and then a get-away) or Charms, like convincing a person to willingly hand over money or to contribute various goods or services. Here are a few favorite tricks of one ustari: "A blueberry muffin floated from behind a diner counter into his waiting hand when no one was looking. A newspaper box popped open without receiving any coins. Taxicabs paid off with blood-smeared dollar bills and told to keep the change without any sense of irony." (p. 47)

Lem takes a very clear-eyed view of mage society. He tells the reader time and time again: "We were not good people." At one point, Lem explains that mages have "survived as a species because we were roaches. We stayed out of the light." (p. 86) Later, Lem muses about his life, "I had seven dollars in my pocket and a single suit of sweaty, crusty clothes. I had holes in my shoes. I had Pitr Mags. I'd never had a lease, or a mortgage. I'd never had a credit card or a bank account. I had a birth certificate, somewhere...but that was it. I'd stolen things. Money, mostly, conned out of Charmed people. Trinkets here and there when survival absolutely demanded it." (p. 232) ~ Fang-tastic Fiction: Jeff Somers: THE USTARI CYCLE

✥ Intricate world building with boundaries to the lore and the limitations of magical system. There are just two rules of blood magic, the Rule of Perception and the Rule of Volume, which boils down to the more blood, the bigger the ‘trick’. ~ book'd out

✥ There’s a cost for magic, and with blood magic, that cost is immediate and has consequences. If you use so much blood that you’re ready to faint, what are you going to do when another fight comes hard on hard on the heels of the first? ~ Book Review: Trickster (Ustari Cycle #1) by Jeff Somers -

✥ Most of history's great disasters were in truth schemes orchestrated by mages meant to kill countless multitudes in order to trigger mighty feats of magic or rituals. 


✥ The series hero is Lem Vonnegan, a Trickster who lives on the edge of poverty and starvation most of the time. He and his sidekick, Pitr (Mags) Mageshkumar, live in New York City, where they spend their time running various cons just to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads—and they're not even very good at that. Lem is one of the rare Tricksters who will only use his own blood. When he was an apprentice mage, his ustari mentor (Hiram Bosch) tried to force him to use "volunteer" Bleeders—usually prostitutes he picked up off the street—but Lem just couldn't do it. His refusal eventually led to his leaving Bosch and going out on the streets with Mags. Mags is an interesting character. He is a huge, burly man who is mentally challenged and who has imprinted on Lem like a baby duck. Lem takes care of Mags the best he can, and Mags rewards him with total loyalty. As Lem explains, "I adopted Mags, he fell in love with me, and we've been non-breeding life partners ever since." (p. 181) Although Lem and Mags live a rough life, they also find dark humor in most of the situations they get themselves into, and they always look out for one another. ~ Fang-tastic Fiction: Jeff Somers: THE USTARI CYCLE

✥ Lem Vonnegan is an anti-hero. Tricksters ‘are not good people’ as he so often asserts. Aside from using magic to rob ‘normals’, few have any qualms about bleeding them to supplement their spells. Though Lem is convinced he is no good, he cares for his ‘non-breeding life partner’ Mags–a low level, slow witted mage and Lem has always refused to use anyone else’s ‘gas’, causing a rift with his mentor and stunting his magical development despite an obvious talent with Words (spell making chants). And when Lem finds a young girl, Claire Mannice, bound and trapped in the trunk of a car of a high level mage he risks his own life to rescue her placing himself squarely in the path of the world’s most powerful Archmage, Mika Renar and her apprentice, Cal Amir. ~ Trickster | book'd out

✥ Lem is a trickster, which means that he uses his own blood to perform magic. This usually amounts to conning the non magical around him. He is always looking for the next big score but when he follows up on a tip. Lem ends up on the magical radar of an archmage, who is far more powerful than him. ~ Fangs For The Fantasy: Trickster

✥ Lem and Mags are not your usual all powerful, masters of the universe type of magicians. They’re Tricksters, grifters, the lowest of the low. They scrape by, gasing up dollar bills to look like twenties, and spending those twenties on booze and cheap hotel rooms. In the world Jeff Somers created, blood is the currency for magic, and unlike others, Lem made a vow to use only his own blood. ~ Book Review: Trickster -

Mags, Pitr Mageshkumar, is Lem's "nonbreeding life partner". The two met in their late teens when Lem apprenticed and the giant, slow-witted Mags imprinted on him like a baby duck and started following him everywhere. Including out into the streets where the two of them owned only the clothes on their backs and have to resort to glamour and charm just to stay alive. ~ Goodreads reader

Sidekick Edit

Mags: slow-witted — sideick to Lem — follows him everywhere

Characters Edit

Characters What About
Lem Vonnegan a trickster he uses his own blood to perform magic
Mags Lem's friend slow-witted, follows Lem everywhere;
Claire Mannice girl found in trunk of a car covered with invisible rune tattoos; young woman Mika Renar plans to kill in a bid for immortality
Mika Renar most powerful, dangerous Archmage in world prepared to sacrifice thousands of women to power a spell for immortality—Lem just got in her way
Cal Amir apprentice Mika Renar's apprentice;
Hiram Bosch Ustari mentor tried to force Lem to use "volunteer" Bleeders, led Lem to his leaving Bosch and going out on the streets with Mags

To expand the table, right-press or (Control-press on a Mac)—choose add row.

Jeff Somers

Jeff Somers

Author Edit

Jeff Somers

Bio: Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, as a child he imagined he would be a brain surgeon, until a spirit-crushing experience convinced him that in order to be a brain surgeon he would have to actually attend school, work hard, and master basic mathematics. After a severe head trauma, he chose instead to write stories and learn the high art of cocktail mixing, and spent the next twenty years in a pleasant haze of fiction and booze. He is the creator of the zine The Inner Swine, and the author of the books Lifers, The Freaks are Winning, The Electric Church, and The Digital Plague, not to mention numerous short stories. ~ Jeff Somers - FF

Cover ArtistEdit

Artist: Chris McGrath

Awards Edit

Publishing InformationEdit

Publisher: Pocket Books, Gallery Books

Book Cover Blurbs Edit

BOOK ONE BLURB—Trickster: From master storyteller Jeff Somers comes a gritty new urban fantasy series starring a pair of unlikely heroes: low-life blood mages caught up in a violent scheme not of their own making.

Lem has ethics in using his magic. Therefore Lem is hungry and broke most of the time. Ethics in the world of blood magic, however, is a gray area. While Lem will grift his way through life by using small glamours to make $1 bills appear as $20s, enabling him and his none-too-bright pal Mags to eat, he won't use other people's blood to cast. Stronger spells require more blood, and hardcore magicians use Bleeders or "volunteers" to this end. Not Lem. So when these down-and-out boon companions encounter a girl kidnapped and marked with magic rune tattoos, it's not at all clear that they're powerful enough to save her...or themselves. Turning to his estranged Master for help, it quickly becomes clear to Lem that not only is this beautiful, strange girl's life all but forfeit, but that the world's preeminent mage had big, earth-shattering plans for her - and he and Mags just got in the way. ~ Trickster by Jeff Somers

BOOK TWO BLURB—We Are Not Good People (October 7th 2014): From the “exhilarating, powerful, and entertaining” (Guardian) storyteller of the Avery Cates series comes a gritty supernatural thriller featuring a pair of unlikely heroes caught up in the underground world of blood magic. The ethics in a world of blood are gray—and an underground strata of blood magicians has been engineering disasters for centuries in order to acquire enough fuel for their spells. They are not good people. Some practitioners, however, use the Words and a swipe of the blade to cast simpler spells, such as Charms and Cantrips to gas up $1 bills so they appear to be $20s. Lem Vonnegan and his sidekick Mags fall into this level of mage, hustlers and con men all. Lem tries to be ethical by using only his own blood, by not using Bleeders or “volunteers.” But it makes life hard. Soon they might have to get honest work. When the pair encounters a girl who’s been kidnapped and marked up with magic runes for a ritual spell, it’s clear they’re in over their heads. Turning to Lem’s estranged master for help, they are told that not only is the girl’s life all but forfeit, but that the world’s preeminent mage, Mika Renar, has earth-shattering plans for her—and Lem just got in the way. With the fate of the world on the line, and Lem both spooked and intrigued by the mysterious girl, the other nominates him to become the huckleberry who’ll take down Renar. But even if he, Mags, and the simpletons who follow him prevail, they’re dealing with the kind of power that doesn’t understand defeat, or mercy.

Quotes Edit

Goodreads | Jeff Somers Quotes (Author of The Electric Church)

“We were fucking incompetent. In all things, we’d failed. We were wallowing in a nice, comfy pit of fucking spectacular failure, deep black and hermetically sealed, me and Mags bound together forever and ever with deep fishhooked ties of ruin (p. 4).” ~ blog

Trivia & Notes Edit

Read Alikes Edit

Notes Edit

See Also Edit

External References Edit


Excerpts & Freebies: 


The World, Characters, etc:





Community, Fan Sites:

Gallery of Book Covers Edit

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