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Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson

Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson
Book Name: Thieftaker
Author: D. B. Jackson
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy
Release Date: July 3, 2012

Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson, takes place in Boston ten years before the start of the American Revolution, after the Stamp Act but before the colonists’ opinion turned against the British Crown. As such, the colonists who do support revolution are viewed as little more than rabble, especially by the protagonist of the novel, Ethan Kaille. Ethan is a thief-taker, a man who works independently of the police to bring thieves to justice. For the most part, he is hired by the middle class to find stolen jewelry in exchange for a few shillings. This keeps him out of the way of Sephira Pryce, the other thief-taker who works in Boston. Unlike Ethan, who works alone, Sephira has a team of henchmen, some of whom commit the very crimes he solves. However, the two of them clash when Ethan is hired by Abner Benson, a wealthy man, to find a brooch stolen from his daughter.

This alone would have made a riveting novel. The fight between two thief-takers, working for justice outside of the law and set against the backdrop of an encroaching revolution would be enough to keep my attention riveted. Thieftaker, however, is not just historical fiction, it’s historical fantasy. And Ethan Kaille is not only a thief-taker, he is a conjurer, who can create illusions and cast spells by using his blood. It’s also a murder mystery. Jennifer Benson was not only robbed but killed, with not a mark left on her body. Ethan is soon caught up in a conspiracy which is much larger than the struggle between two thief-takers.

I will admit that I don’t know what everyday life would have been like for Bostonians in the years before the revolution. However, Jackson creates a portrait of a city that is believable. The rich are separated from the poor and working class by not only economics but politics. The richer citizens are loyal to the Crown, while the lower classes are more likely to support a revolution. The Sons of Liberty are still a relatively small group and viewed as more of a nuisance than a potential source of change, in large part because they are often connected to the riots led by Ebenezer Mackintosh. The political struggle between the colonies and the Crown plays a large part in the novel, both in setting the scene (in an early scene, Ethan has an argument about politics with his lover, an innkeeper named Kannice who is a supporter of revolution) and in the larger plot as Ethan realizes that Jennifer Benson’s murder may be connected to the rioting.

I have to admit, as an American, it felt strange to read a novel told from the point of view of a man who, while he may not be a staunch supporter of the British government, argues repeatedly against revolution. My opinion was soon changed by Jackson’s presentation of Ethan. He is both a tough man of the streets who can hold his own in a fight and a man who genuinely cares about the people around him and is even willing to put his life at risk to save a friend’s son. The introduction of characters such as Samuel Adams proves the political situation to be less black and white than it first appeared, with the rabble-rousing colonists causing trouble for the sensible loyalists (or, as I am more often used to seeing, the patriotic colonists fighting back against the oppressive loyalists).

Ethan Kaille is the sort of character you’d expect to see in a gritty political thriller: an older man with a troubled past (he was part of a mutiny and later imprisoned in Barbados) who doesn’t take to one side or the other when it comes to politics. This isn’t a bad thing, especially since Ethan has a legitimate reason to be standoffish and mistrusting. Conjurers, also called spellers or witches, are considered dangerous workers of the dark arts, and even though Ethan isn’t completely secretive about his abilities, if word got out to the wrong people, he could easily end up hung as a witch. He at first tells only a few trusted friends, but as he delves deeper into the mystery, he finds that he must bring himself to trust others, who he would have shied away from before.

The other characters are the sorts you’d expect to see. There’s the trusted friend, the lover, the rival, and the wealthy businessman (or the historical equivalent thereof). None of them felt formulaic, however, or if they did, it was a formula that worked. I’ve read a good many fantasy novels, and I sometimes make a game of trying to find tropes and twists before they happened. Thieftaker, however, kept me consistently surprised. Though I tried to figure it out, I could rarely tell what would come next, and when the final reveal came, even though it was not at all what I had been expecting and secretly hoping for, I believed every moment of it.

The one complaint I did have was about the women in the novel. While they aren’t portrayed as weak characters who only sit around and allow the men to do all the work (in fact, each of the four living women has a certain strength to her, and each has a different sort of strength, which is even better), at the first, they seemed formulaic and too easy to place into boxes. There was the one who was obviously the villain and used her body to get what she wanted, the lover, the previous lover who was simply too good for the protagonist to attain, and the older witch woman. By the end of the novel, I had come to enjoy the women, although I found Sephira Pryce still rather over-the-top, and I hope the later novels in the trilogy give her a bit more depth.

In all, Thieftaker is an excellent novel, and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in the American Revolution or those who would like a bit more history to balance out their fantasy.


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