Review: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

Friday, July 20, 2012
Title: Thieftaker
Author: D.B. Jackson
Genre: historical fiction, supernatural fiction, mystery
Series:  Thieftaker Chronicles #1
Pages: 333 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: July 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

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 don't have much to say about Thieftaker upon finishing this medium length novel about a paranormal investigator of sorts. I wanted to love it, I was sold on the idea of the story itself (American historical fiction with magic! In Boston! In 1765!) but though I moderately liked this novel, it doesn't leave much of an impression upon finishing. I hate writing these kinds of wishywashy "wish I'd liked it better" reviews; they are the hardest to write and usually the least helpful to any other readers trying to decide to read a novel or not. With those warnings in mind, I would by no means say that D.B. Jackson's Thieftaker is bad novel - it's not that at all. It just didn't grab my attention and hold it the way I wished it would have.

Those three out of five stars are to show that this is a solid novel, one that will probably satisfy most urban fantasy fans. I liked this, I liked reading while I was doing so, but once I set the novel down, I felt little impulse to pick it right back up. I need to start a "it's not you, it's me" shelf. Sure, Thieftaker is original enough, but not enough is done with the setting and a large problem with the story lies with the pacing of the story itself. The fist 200 pages were a lot of set-up and very little momentum on the mystery aspect of the novel. It takes a little too long to get the ball rolling, plot-wise, and the mystery element suffers the most from its rushed conclusion. I didn't invest a lot of time or emotion on the plot or the characters here: sure, I liked the4 cast well enough, but none, not even the main character, stuck out as particualry memorable. There's something predictable at work here in Thieftaker, and it shows most when the focus is on the characters and not the supernatural.

Ethan Kaille is a more than serviceable protagonist. His voice is weary and he's had his share of bad times and mistakes; he's a world-weary conjurer wary of the society he lives in.  The third person POV didn't do much to help me invest in him; this is a character that is distant from everyone, including the reader, for the duration. He comes off a lot of as an Old Timey Harry Dresden at times; there are several marked similarities between their characters, personalities and abilities (ghost spirit guides named Reg and Bob, respectively.) (In a fight, I thibk I'd give Ethan the win, because he's slightly more cagey and unpredictable than Harry. But this isn't a cage match. I digress.) Their jaded, hardened outlook on life is nothing new for the urban (colonial?) fantasy genre, and though Ethan might not be the most original character ever conceived, he definitely grows on the reader as he uncovers more and more about the seedy underside of Boston.

The magic aspect, one of the main concepts of the story that drew me to this novel as I don't read a lot of supernatural historical fiction (Changeling does NOT count!), was solid but not spectacular or particularly innovative in nature. Latin and blood? Been done before, but it's not too bad a place to start, either. It's straightforward and easily understood, but hardly the most inventive route to conjure power. I felt that the fight scenes involving the magic left as little to be desired, but the draw in this for me after reading the first 200 pages was seeing who the overall antagonist was, not in the repeated altercations with Ethan's rival of Sephira Price.

With all that said, will I pick up book number two in this new series? Most likely. The good (and the okaaaay) outweigh the slightly bad in the case of Thieftaker and I will be interested to see where D.B. Jackson takes this character and this series. It's the first book and there's evidence that this author has talent, and will hopefully grow into a more detailed, evenly-paced writer. If you're interested in trying Thieftaker, there is a short novella, A Spell of Vengeance, written about Ethan. I'd suggest trying that $.99 ebook to see if this type of story and this particular character are a fit for you.

(I guess I had more to say than I thought!)


  1. You said so well exactly what I felt about this book -- and I struggled to with this (and Flight From Berlin) with the whole wish-it-were-a-little-different syndrome. I too plan to get the next book and see if this is just the debut jitters, but I believe Jackson has written other books before -- non-fiction -- so if things don't pick up by two I may just give this a pass. Which breaks my heart as I sooooooooooo wanted this one to be a fav!

    1. I really wanted to love it, too! I have the same hopes - that this is a stumble out of the gate and he'll improve as a writer. If book two doesn't work for me, I'm out. I am definitely still willing to give him/it a second chance, though :)


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