Book Review: Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson (Series, #1)
After spending over a decade serving hard labor in the Caribbean for mutiny and conjuring, Ethan has finally made it back to Boston. He now makes his living as a thieftaker, essentially a private investigator who hunts down stolen items, using his conjuring where necessary to help him out. But the year is 1767 and trouble is starting to brew in Boston. The Stamp Tax has been enacted, and the people don’t like it. There are even riots in the street. Against this back-drop, Ethan is asked to find a brooch that was stolen–from the body of a dead girl. He doesn’t usually take on cases involving murder, but this one is different.
It’s probably hard to tell from this blog, because they’re hard to find, but I am a real sucker for a good Boston during the American Revolution story. So when this title showed up I snapped it up. I’m glad I did because it’s an interesting take on the Stamp Act Riots.
This is an interesting piece of historic fiction, because it’s more like urban fantasy historic fiction. Is that a genre? Can it be? What on earth would we call it? In any case, I was in heaven, because I love BOTH urban fantasy and history so having both in one book was heaven. I mean first it’s breeches and three corner hats then it’s look at this illusion of a creepy little girl. Brilliant.
I struggled a bit with Ethan, which in retrospect wasn’t a bad thing. That shows he’s a realistic, well-rounded character. But let’s be honest. I’m more of a Sam Adams revolutionary type. Ethan served in the British Navy and is all “oh these hooligans.” This bothered me a lot! Especially when I got suspicious that the book as a whole would lean Tory. But! This all ends up being part of the character development, which in the end is what makes the book stronger. Ethan isn’t sure about protesting and fighting the aristocracy at first. But he changes his mind with time. This makes for a great plot-line. I like it. I do hope in the sequel we will get less of this hemming and hawing about owing things to the crown and yadda yadda. DOWN WITH THE KING. Ahem.
As a Bostonian, can I just say, I haven’t seen a book so intent on giving actual street names and buildings before, but it worked. They are totally accurate. I could completely visualize not just the streets but the entire routes Ethan was walking along. Granted, it was as if through a looking glass, since when I walk them they’re a bit different than in 1767, but still. It was very cool. I also really appreciated the depiction of the South Enders, since I spend quite a bit of time in Southie. Seeing the historical versions was really fun.
The magic portion of the book was also unique. Ethan has to cut himself to get blood to work the more powerful spells. The less powerful ones he can work with surrounding grasses, plants, etc… This makes the interesting problem that people struggle in fist-fighting him because if he bleeds he just uses it to work spells. It’s a nice touch.
So with all this glowing, why not five stars? Well, honestly, Ethan bugged me so much for the first 2/3 of the book that I kept almost stopping in spite of all the good things. He’s just such a…a…Tory. For most of the book. Instead of being angry at the man for putting him in prison for conjuring, he blames himself. Instead of being angry that the rich just keep getting richer while he struggles to pay his rent, he blames himself. You get the picture. Being irritated almost constantly by Ethan kind of pulled me out of the world and the story, which I wish hadn’t happened, because it really is such a cool world. I get what Jackson was trying to do, character development wise, but the payoff in the end was almost missed because I kept stopping reading due to being irritated with Ethan. Perhaps if his change of heart had started to show up a bit sooner it would have worked better for me.
Overall, though, this is well-researched and thought out version of Boston during the Stamp Act Riots. Fans of historic fiction and urban fantasy will get a kick out of seeing the latter glamoring up the former.
4 out of 5 stars