Thieftaker: A Book Review

Thieftaker, by D.B. JacksonOver the holidays I managed to finish D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker. Set in pre-revolutionary Boston, Thieftaker is the story of Ethan Kaille, a sort of proto-detective and, it so happens, a conjurer.  Predating modern police forces, thieftakers were a late 17th century English profession, hired by clients to locate and recover stolen articles.  While many were legit, some were as corrupt as the thieves themselves, much like Kaille’s adversary, Sephira Pryce.

Jackson has done good work here, mixing elements of the hard bitten detective story, modern fantasy, and historical fiction.  It lacks a lot of the charm of Butcher’s Dresden novels, but doesn’t suffer for it.  The story moves along quite briskly for its 327 pages, and strings together quite nicely.  I was actually snookered by the big reveal (no great feat that, as most of my reading these days is in 30 minute sprints at bedtime), and I went back to double check.  The clues were there, but subtle and diffused.

Another thing the author does is make good use of the setting.  I’ve never been to Boston, nor read much about its founding (something I may have to remedy someday), but I feel the author did a fine job of painting a picture of the place.

Reading the Acknowledgements was revealing: apparently Thieftaker started out as more of a straight forward fantasy novel, only being set in historical Boston at the suggestion of the editor.  I wonder how many more fantasy novels would benefit if their authors would stop world building and just take a page from history to color in the margins.

Naturally, Thieftaker is only the first of a longer series of Ethan Kaille-centered novels.  These look to be episodic, not the sprawling saga every damned fantasy novel for the past 20 years feels to have been leashed to.  I could be wrong about that, though — I’ve yet to start on Book 2: Thieves’ Quarry.

So to sum up, a damn fine read.  Four out of five stars.  Definitely worth your time.

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5 thoughts on “Thieftaker: A Book Review

  1. tydirium7

    Tom,
    I have been plodding through this as well as part of my Fantasy Colonial novel theme I promised I’d read this year. The story is fine, but the writing style is a bit direct and I felt he could have delved a bit further into character development. Overall, though a meaninful read imo.

    Jh

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  2. blusponge Post author

    I found the pace and tight plotting a bit refreshing. This day and age, it feels like everyone has to pad things out to 500+ pages, with two more installments to go. It felt like a good mystery novel, without a ton of world building baggage. Also, as the first book in a “series,” I expect subsequent novels to develop the character as needed. It’s not going to stand up as one of the great novels of our time, but its a hell of a lot better than some Tony Hillerman novels. ::shudder::

    Also, if you haven’t already, check out Robert McCammon’s Speaks the Nightbird. It’s a bit of a sprawl, but it really oozes atmosphere. It’s set in a small, isolated colony. You can really tell the author loves the period and has done his homework. I have the follow-up waiting on my shelf.

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