A Plunder of Souls, D. B. Jackson’s third book in the Thieftaker series, doesn’t waste a lot of time kicking into high gear. Like Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls revolves around Ethan Kaille, a sorcerer (or conjurer in the context of the series) with a checkered past doing his best to make ends meet and maintain his honor on the streets of British colonial Boston. Back is the usual rogues’ gallery of foils and foes, including firebrand Sam Adams and the Wicked Sephira Pyrce. A spectral threat looms over the city at large, all as we have come to expect from this series.
Where the previous two books have focused on mystery and the sinister machinations of an unknown villain, A Plunder of Souls dispenses with all that gives us a very front and center villain in Captain Nate Ramsey. There isn’t much mystery to Ramsey’s motives, though the means marks another departure for the series. Along with its villain, A Plunder of Souls really puts magic at the fore of the story. This allows Jackson to really dig his teeth into the metaphyics that govern the universe of his novels, with promising results.
But back to the villainous Ramsey. It is well understood that the hero of any story is nothing without a good villain. In fact, in my experience, the villain is often more important than the character of the hero. If we, the audience, don’t buy into the villain, don’t buy his or her motivations and complexities, than what follows is largely formulaic (especially in genre fiction). Perhaps it his directness or his intensity, but Nate Ramsey quickly becomes one of those villains you love to hate. I feel the need to applaud Jackson. Given Ramsey’s motivations, it would have been very easy for the writer to paint him as overly sympathetic and justified. Thankfully, Jackson avoided that awful knee-jerk tendency and gave Ramsey a suitably black heart. In a stroke, his motivation also becomes one of his few weaknesses, and one that Kaille is loathe to employ regardless of the threat posed.
Perhaps it was because I read this book following the long slog that was Mark Chadbourne’s The Devil’s Looking Glass, but the pacing felt lightning quick and satisfactory. Despite all the technobabble about how magic works, the book never feels like it slows long enough to loosen its grip. Where in the previous two books, the main character has had time to pause, reflect and connect the dots, A Plunder of Souls has a real sense of urgency to it — as if in taking that time to tie everything together, the hero and reader alike will be steamrolled by unfolding events. Jackson even manages to give us some real character growth in regards to Kaille, though the true measure of that will depend on the The Dead Man’s Reach, the next installment of the series. You can bet that will be on my reading list for 2016.
Four and a half out of five stars.