From Booklist, American Library Association, January 1997:
De Lint is a master at world building, at creating the apt image, and at making grippingly suspenseful a story in which the fate of the characters may have no cosmic significance but is vitally important to them and their closest friends. It is hard to imagine urban fantasy done with greater skill, even by de Lint himself.
From The Globe and Mail, March 1997:
…de Lint skillfully handles Trader's coming to terms with his new existence, drawing a realistic portrait of a man suddenly robbed of his identity and the physical trappings that come with it. Although the loss of self evokes terrifying possibilities and primal fears, de Lint has written a contemplative book, realistically triumphant, that suggests life is meant to be lived, not merely worn.
From The Montreal Gazette, June 1997:
…a work of great imagination, beauty, and inspiration and should be read by anyone who feels either too restless or too comfortable in his lifestyle.
From The New York Review of Science Fiction, September 1997:
De Lint possesses a broad-shouldered storytelling skill which moves the narrative steadily, relentlessly forward.
From British Fantasy Society Bulletin, November/December 1997:
De Lint weaves complicated patterns with the thoughts and lives of his characters before he brings them in contact, and anywhere near a conclusion. He draws such deep and heartfelt characters that think and breathe like people rather than pages. Recommended thoroughly.
With every work of fiction set in Newford, de Lint just gets better and better. Memory and Dream, the first Newford novel, was a fine work in its own right, but Trader is leaps and bounds ahead in writing and plotting. Trader was followed by Someplace to Be Flying, which might be yet more superior, but perhaps only on second reading. The latter novel is complex, maybe even too much so, but Trader grabs the readers' sympathy and attention immediately.
Max Trader is a luthier, and his guitars are famous for their quality. He has not been lucky in love, but apart from that, his life is well in order. One morning, Max wakes up in someone else's body, and slowly comes to realize that the person whose body is inhabiting now has his body. Who has he traded bodies with? Johnny Devlin, a man who has made a complete mess of his personal life in every way. No job. He treats the women in his life like dirt. Avaricious, lazy, and a little malevolent. Johnny makes the best use he can imagine of Max's life, which mainly consists of ruining it. Max desperately tries to fix what he can of Johnny's life to make it bearable, and ends up homeless and almost completely abandoned.
Trader is filled with interesting characters, and I find it amazing how de Lint can capture the voices of so many people. One of his devices is a split between first person and third person narration, just as in many of his short stories. In this book, we get Max's point of view from first person, but de Lint alternates that with chapters written in third person. These other sections give us a sense of the community of Newford in almost the same way as a collection of short stories like Moonlight and Vines might. Here, de Lint stitches the differing perspectives together into one coherent narrative, no mean feat. When the struggle between Max and Johnny comes to a fevered pitch, Max is not really alone, no matter how much he might think so.
De Lint is a perceptive writer. He has a knack for the small details that make up a person's life, and he also captures the varying opinions of his large cast of characters. Here's a rant from Jilly, who has been discussing relationships with Tanya. Tanya has asked Jilly if she would like to be in a relationship, and Jilly replies:
"'Well, sure. Who doesn't? But the point is, you're still a worthwhile person if you're not. What gets to me is the perception that's pushed at us from the minute we're born: that we need a man to give our lives meaning. Never mind the women's-rights movement. Never mind plain common sense. The perception's still there. The propaganda's waiting for us wherever we turn.'" (181)
De Lint can also capture a feeling quite precisely when he's writing from Max's perspective. Here's a nice example: "A feeling of such dislocation comes over me that I'm afraid to stand up. It's like climbing the stairs of a stopped escalator—it's too disorienting" (247). Max has reason to be feeling disoriented at many stops along the way.
Trader is a great book, well-written, more approachable than Someplace to Be Flying, and fascinating from beginning to end. Highly recommended.
Trader by Charles de Lint is a contemporary urban tale from one of Canada's most accomplished fantasy writers. Max Trader, a solitary, responsible guitar maker, and Johnny Devlin, a chronically unemployed drunk, inexplicably wake up in each other's bodies. While Devlin gleefully inhabits his suddenly stable new existence, the now penniless, friendless Trader begins a journey that will take him to a land of dreams and spirits to confront his own deepest fears.
SF Chronicle, June 1997:
Max Trader is a successful businessman, living a very pleasant life until he wakes up one morning to discover he has traded places with Johnny Devlin, a dissolute, bankrupt and entirely unsavory person who seems perfectly satisfied with their altered circumstances. Trader obviously can't convince anyone else of the truth and Devlin's past misdeeds make it difficult for him to make friends. Living on the street, he eventually convinces one young woman of the truth and sets out to reclaim his own life. Trader's reconstruction of his life is brilliantly told in this, just the latest of de Lint's fine contemporary fantasies.