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When Nick asks Alan for help with the kitchen sink, Alan replies, "No, I'm too busy cooking. You do the heavy lifting around here. I'm more the sensitive intellectual type" (1.5), and at first, that seems like a pretty good description of him. He works in a bookstore, he translates Sumerian tablets, and he loves to learn. He's kind, he's gentle, and he's helpful, and, as Nick says, he "care[s] so much about kindness "(5.67).
So at first glance, it seems that Alan is the quintessential nice guy who's destined to finish last, and when we see the way his crush, Mae, looks at Nick? Well we kind of feel sorry for the poor guy. But Alan isn't just nice. In fact, sometimes he isn't nice at all.
Consider the fact that he allows Nick to live with a mother who openly detests him for sixteen years, and then has the gall to get upset when Nick can't find love in his heart for Olivia. Alan even goes so far as to shame Nick, saying, "I know she isn't good to you, but you've lived with her all your life. […] Do you care at all?" (4.66) Essentially, he's chastising a younger brother who's been verbally abused and neglected by his mother for his entire life, which makes it pretty hard for us to see Alan as particularly nice at this moment.
And then there's the way he blackmails Merris at the House of Mezentius, saying, "I don't think many people will approve of you leeching money from the helpless victims of magicians and using it to gain power in our Market. Because that's the way I'll spin it, Merris. And people will believe me. I can make people trust me" (10.218). Effective, yes, but again: not very nice.
As Alan reveals to Merris in the blackmail scene, he is gifted at manipulating people and he's a great liar. At one point, Nick expresses that "it had always been a comfort to him that Alan could lie so well," and he also thinks that "Alan never looked kinder than when he was lying to someone" (6.190).
The thing about Alan is that he's super smart… and super sneaky. In fact, it's nice guy Alan—not demon boy Nick—who engages in the most deception over the course of the book.
One deception Alan perpetrates is the continuous charade of making himself appear weaker than he is. Upon meeting Mae and Jamie, for instance, "He rumpled his hair and adjusted his glasses in an anxious sort of way, and he took a couple of steps back into the kitchen. He let them see the limp: He used that, the same way he used everything" (1.122). Manipulative much?
He does this in order to appear non-threatening to friends and foes alike. With friends, it's disarming; it makes people feel comfortable around him. And with enemies? We're guessing that Black Arthur isn't the first one that's ever given Alan an advantage by underestimating him, and we doubt he'll be the last. But does that make all of Alan's deception okay?
Another testament to Alan's sneaky, deceptive side is the number of secrets he's carrying around. He's got secrets about his real family, secrets about his brother's genus and species, secrets about Olivia's past, and secrets about his plans to settle things with Black Arthur… and he manages to keep them all, well, secret. Sure he seems to believe that what he's doing is in everyone's best interests, but again—does that give him the right to withhold information and make decisions that will affect people profoundly on his own?
Of course, we don't know until the end just how many tricks Alan has up his sleeve, but it's very interesting to realize that Alan, the guy who seems so straightforward and easy to read, is just as much of an enigma as his pseudo-human brother. And when we look back over all of the decisions Alan made in order to get things to work out the way they did, we have two distinct reactions:
Sure everything seems to have turned out okay in the end, but as we go back over all of Alan's actions (for the last couple of years, at least), we can't help wondering, does this end result justify Alan's means? Either way, one thing's for certain: Now that we have an idea what Alan's capable of, we'll be more wary of this "nice guy" going forward.