Review: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson


July 12, 2012 by Heidi

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson book coverTitle: Thieftaker [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: D.B. Jackson [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: First novel in a new series.
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Historical
Published: July 3rd, 2012 by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover; 336 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley

Boston, 1767: In D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, revolution is brewing as the British Crown imposes increasingly onerous taxes on the colonies, and intrigue swirls around firebrands like Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. But for Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who makes his living by conjuring spells that help him solve crimes, politics is for others…until he is asked to recover a necklace worn by the murdered daughter of a prominent family.

Suddenly, he faces another conjurer of enormous power, someone unknown, who is part of a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of power in the turbulent colony. His adversary has already killed—and not for his own gain, but in the service of his powerful masters, people for whom others are mere pawns in a game of politics and power. Ethan is in way over his head, and he knows it. Already a man with a dark past, he can ill afford to fail, lest his livelihood be forfeit. But he can’t stop now, for his magic has marked him, so he must fight the odds, even though he seems hopelessly overmatched, his doom seeming certain at the spectral hands of one he cannot even see.

I’ve had a lot of reading discoveries in the past year, but one of my favorites has been the discovery of the Urban Fantasy genre.  I was always a fantasy girl, but give it the edge of our own world, an urban setting, and usually a pretty kick butt protagonist, and I was pretty well sold right out of the gate.  Now, before I got all big and fangirly about fantasy, I was all big and fangirly about historical fiction…but then I mostly stopped reading it, for something like 15 years.  So this year also marks my return to historical fantasy.  Given these facts, I think it’s obvious by now why I was pretty much off the charts excited for Thieftaker.

Thieftaker isn’t your average urban fantasy read.  Not only because it is set against a historical backdrop, but also because it features a male protagonist, Ethan Kaille.  I love that this genre is so chock full of strong female leads, but it’s always nice to read from a different perspective, and that’s exactly what we get with Ethan.  Ethan Kaille is a middle aged thieftaker, a professional who hunts down thieves, bringing them to justice and returning the items they steal.  He only gets away with working the streets of Boston because Sephira Pryce, the most prominent theiftaker in the city, lets him.  He subsists on small clientele, taking only jobs that are below Sephira’s interest.  That is, until, he’s given a case he can’t turn down.  Ethan doesn’t usually work for rich clients, or murders, but when a wealthy man implores him to find his daughter’s murderer, Ethan can’t refuse because he knows he’s the only one who can solve it.  He’s the only one, because he’s a speller, a conjurer–a witch, and that’s just what killed the girl.

I was completely drawn in by the premise of D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, I loved the grimy and restless setting of Boston in the late 1760s, and the aspects of conjuring in a society with a devout fear of witchcraft.  Set shortly after the passing of the Stamp Act when the city is beginning to feel the stress and confines of British rule, Ethan Kaille is caught up in plots and events that will remain infamous for centuries.  Well researched, D.B. Jackson weaves together elements of history and fantasy to create a fascinating story.  Plus, can I mention the fantastic cover art?  I love it, and feel it represents the story perfectly.

Throughout the course of the book I learned that Ethan is a steadfastly good man, though for him, good and lawful do not always align.  He is known as a mutineer, feared as a conjurer, and has few friends.  We do not learn about Ethan or the rest of the cast in depth in this installment, but that is to be expected in the beginning of this sort of series.  D.B. Jackson teases us with portions of Ethan’s relations and backstory without laying everything bare.  I actually appreciate this slow paced development tactic in series, especially in high action books where there’s enough story to keep me glued even before I come to love those involved.

I have to admit, however, that I was not entirely caught up in the plot.  The constant reappearance of Saphira and her men (twice a day it seemed) was grating, and overall I think I was expecting a bit more oomph to the story.  There were a few pieces that didn’t make sense to me, for example Ethan is told about a possible connection between the murder he is investigating and a death that occurred the previous year.  This seems revalatory, and yet, later when discussing his current case with several other men they talk about this connection as if the two are openly known to be linked.  I’m also constantly bothered when someone sets something down/it is taken away, but then they have it later without us ever knowing they retrieved the item (in this case, a knife).  Nit-picky of me, I know, but that’s one of those tiny things that always irks me (and may well be corrected in the final copy).  On top of this, there was the classic villainous monologuing and an ending that seemed a wee bit drawn out, but I’ll say again that I love the concept of thieftaking (an actual profession, though not practiced in the Americas at this time), and the world building was very well done.

Thieftaker grabbed me in the beginning, but it didn’t really hold me throughout.  I have had similar experiences with other series that did get better, so I am hoping that as action heats up around Boston, so will Ethan Kaille’s story.  There’s so much potential with the time period chosen, and I’d love to see where Kaille ends up in the brewing battle between loyalists and revolutionaries.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I was a bit disappointed in Thieftaker, but I did enjoy it.  I probably won’t be actively seeking the sequels, but if I see enough good reviews, I’ll give them a go!

Recommended for: Fans who enjoy both historical fiction and urban fantasy, particularly those who enjoy the Revolutionary period, Boston, and a bit of rough and tumble.  This series may appeal to male readers interested in urban fantasy series more than others have.  You can read the first 3 chapters of Thieftaker online here.

Get a second opinion:
All Things Urban Fantasy
Staffer’s Book Review


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  1. Michelle says:

    I too have been quite reeled in by the premise of this one. 1760s Boston? Awesome. Also the pretty cover. Love. Sad to hear that it didn’t work out completely for you tho.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I’m hoping others are able to enjoy it a bit more than I did. I think the series has some potential, and I’m still gaga about the premise.

  2. Honestly, I think I will really like Thieftaker, especially because now I know it’s weaknesses going in and have adjusted expectations. And really? I can’t resist historical fantasy. Yay historical fiction plus fantasy equals one AWESOME experience.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I’d never read historical fantasy before this year, and I am LOVING it. Interested to see the outcome if you do read Thieftaker! I’m really hoping the story gets stronger from here on out.

  3. I just won a copy of this book through Tor’s sweepstakes (woo hoo!) and I’m really looking forward to it. I think the premise sounds very cool because I’m also a big fan of historical fiction, and the American Pre- Revolutionary time frame is one I have not read much of. I guess I didn’t realize that it was a planned series so that’s doubly exciting to me.

    But like you, classic villainous monologuing (I always think of Disney’s The Incredibles when I hear that phrase) is GRATING to say the least, so I am glad you prepared me for it beforehand:)

    So glad to read your early review:)

    • Heidi says:

      The Incredibles “You got me monologuing!” is EXACTLY what I’m thinking about when I refer to these things. 😛

      I hope that you like it when you read it! Like I said, I was a bit disappointed, and it wasn’t perfect, but it was an enjoyable read.

  4. […] The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson Storybound by Marissa […]

  5. […] I finished reading other American historical fantasy novels earlier this year like Dust Girl and Theiftaker and expressed further interest in this niche of Historical Fantasy, Catie, Flannery (The […]

  6. […] going to love.  There were concerns as I ventured past the world of Ilona Andrews.  I tried a couple of new starts, and came away disappointed and worried that all other UF had a lackluster sheen to it. […]

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