The Wagers, by Sean Michaels

The ancients used to think of luck as a supernatural force. I find it hard to argue with them. Luck is fickle. Sometimes we try to woo it to our side by not shaving or not changing our socks or carrying around a lucky charm. Luck is a lot more identifiable in Sean Michaels’s The Wagers, but no less mysterious. In the world of Theo Potiris, part-time grocer and comedian, luck is a finite resource and he is one of luck’s losers. We see him drifting through life until a chance (heh) encounter with a group of luck thieves makes him finally realize what makes him happy in life. At least, that’s what I think this book is about. It’s muddled.

Theo has a ritual. Before he goes on stage at his local comedy club, he places a bet. The ritual isn’t for luck. It’s more of a habit than anything else. And this might be the most interesting thing about Theo. He’s not particularly funny, since he doesn’t hone his jokes, and he doesn’t have much ambition in his day job at the family grocery store. His mother’s death near the beginning of The Wagers shakes him up somewhat, but it’s his relationship with Simone that really gets him out of his rut. Simone, we learn, is the member of a gang thieves who steal luck. Yes, you read that right. They steal luck. In this world, luck manifests as sand that makes the improbable a lot more probable. Luck is mostly good, although this sand also seems to make it more likely that birds will poop on you.

The Wagers is slow to start. Things pick up after Theo starts to run heists with the luck gang (this really is the best part of the book), but the ending completely (at least for me) undid a lot of the momentum and quirkiness that had been building. The shift in tone made me flip back a couple of pages to check if I had missed anything. I hadn’t. The rushed ending left me wondering what all the preceding pages had been for. This, paired with the odd pacing throughout The Wagers soured me on this book, sadly.

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