Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson is the first book in the Thieftaker Chronicles. It’s an alt history, fantasy story which takes place in 1765 Boston. The main character is Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker which means people hire him to track down stolen property and return it to them. He’s not the only thieftaker in town as he has a rival in Sephira Pryce. However, their paths rarely meet as her clients are the upper crust of Boston society. While Ethan operates within the law and tries to avoid harming the people he captures, he does have a secret weapon: He’s conjurer. This means he casts spells. Since the story is set 18th century colonial America, being a conjurer is akin to being a witch and so the threat of being hanged or burned as one is very real. Yet a surprising amount of people know about Ethan’s abilities even though he doesn’t go around advertising it.
The novel starts with Ethan tracking down a jewel thief. After recovering the jewels and warning the thief to leave Boston ASAP, the next morning Ethan’s approached by one of the wealthier citizens of Boston to recover a brooch stolen off his dead daughter’s body. But Ethan is puzzled why he’s contacted when Sephira Pryce usually handles the more exclusive members of Boston. His new client explains Ethan was recommended by Pryce because of his abilities and something is off about his daughter’s death. When Ethan conducts a couple of spells, he quickly realizes that whoever killed her is an incredibly powerful conjurer for he or she has been able to cleverly disguise not only the cause of death, but also the signature color each conjurer has. Ethan realizes recovering the stolen brooch is irrelevant and something to throw off who the real killer is.
Solving murders is not Ethan’s area of expertise so initially he’s at a lost at where to start. Matters are not helped as Pryce and her goons beat him up several times as a warning to stick with just recovering the brooch, but he doesn’t listen and soon the killer stalks and attacks Ethan. Everyone from the deceased woman’s betrothed to Pryce to several others, including a couple of members of the Sons of Liberty, try to pin the murder on a known rabble-rouser. But Ethan doesn’t believe it as none of the evidence supports the claim.
I loved this book. Not only for the historical aspect of it, but how seamlessly the fantasy elements work within the world. It’s natural, not over done, and when spells are cast it’s not over the top. I also love how Ethan is not a super powerful conjurer. He’s got skills for sure, but admits more than once he doesn’t know everything and seeks help in another conjurer, Janna as she specializes in a different kind of conjuring. This makes the final battle between Ethan and the real killer more exciting because he struggles, racking his brain for any little trick he can use to gain the upper hand. The way conjuring is used is pretty neat. Each spell caster has essentially a ghost or guide that appears. Ethan’s happens to be a grizzled, middle-age man he refers to as Uncle Reg as guide doesn’t talk. But what he doesn’t say, he makes up for in facial expressions, and comedic moments. The reader gets the impression Uncle Reg is a reluctant guide and doesn’t care much for Ethan but those changes throughout the book.
Another thing I enjoyed were the characters. The villains are well done especially Pryce as she’s almost throwback, good old-fashion villain with her thugs and who enjoys what she does. I look forward to seeing more of her and Ethan’s interactions in the series. I appreciate Ethan is a straight up, pure hero. While he may come from a privileged background, he’s done things in his life, criminal things, he has paid a hefty price for. It’s easy to feel sympathy for him and is the kind of character one wants to keep reading about. Also he has moral limits when it comes to conjuring, but is forced to push and cross those during the course of the book. Ethan is definitely not the brooding hero type that personally I’m getting a little tired of seeing. Another I also like about him is that while he does try to keep his abilities secret for a variety of reasons, word still gets out no matter how careful he is.
The supporting characters are also wonderful. From Ethan’s kinda best friend Diver to his girlfriend Kannice to his sister Bett to the minister-in-training Mr. Pell and everyone in between, it’s a cast I can’t wait to see more of. Relationships are complicated, but not needlessly so. And while life is certainly hard and times are difficult with riots protesting the Crown and the Sons of Liberty making a name for themselves, these people aren’t depressed which sometimes I see in books set during transitional time periods.
The world of Thieftaker is vivid and the reader can tell lots of research went into bringing pre-American Revolution war Boston to life. Again, everything in the book is just natural even when incorporating real life characters, such as Samuel Adams, into the narrative.
I honestly found little to complain about with this book. When pressed I guess I did notice some of the descriptions of when either Ethan or the real killer would use their power seemed repetitive. And sometimes I admittedly did get lost as to what exactly was going on and how people were able to do what they were doing. But that’s probably more on me as the reader rather than a defect of the writing.
Overall I give Thieftaker four pencils out of five and will definitely be picking up the next books in the series.