Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Short Fiction – “Thieftaker” Style

As anyone following the blog this year knows, I’m experimenting with writing more short fiction. I haven’t given up on novels by any means, but short fiction will allow me to produce more content at a quicker pace. To this end, I’m also reading more short stories, and the most recent ones brought me back to D.B. Jackson’s wonderful Thieftaker Chronicles.

The Thieftaker Chronicles is one of the best historical fantasy series around, set in pre-revolutionary Boston. The series’ protagonist, Ethan Kaille, is a thieftaker, a detective for hire who hunts down stolen items – and the thieves who took them. But Kaille is also a conjurer, or “speller,” one of a gifted group of people who can work magic with the aid of a spectral guardian, who in Kaille’s case is the ghost of a medieval warrior nicknamed Uncle Reg. Of course, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where witchcraft was rather frowned upon, being a speller can be a bit dangerous.

Each of the Thieftaker stories is a mystery, sort of like the Harry Potter tales but with a more adult feel. In addition to the four novels that make up the series, Jackson has written several short stories starring Kaille. I recently finished two of them: The Price of Doing Business and A Spell of Vengeance, both of which take place before the series’ first novel Thieftaker.

The Price of Doing Business is more vignette than short story. It provides an account of how Kaille met his archrival in the thieftaking business, Sephira Pryce. Despite its brevity and limited plot, it was fun to return to Kaille’s Boston in the years before the Revolutionary War. I also enjoyed a return to Jackson’s unique magic system, and even smiled the first time Uncle Reg appeared with the summoning “Velamentum ex cruore evocatum,” concealment conjured from blood. 

A Spell of Vengeance is a more fulsome story than The Price of Doing Business. Not only does it introduce Kaille to Kannice, his eventual love interest, but also to Nate Ramsey. As anyone who has read A Plunder of Souls knows, Ramsey is one of Kaille’s most fearsome opponents. In A Plunder of Souls, it was clear there was some history between the two men, and in A Spell of Vengeance, we learn just what that history was. This story really made me long for more Thieftaker tales.

Speaking of, I have read more than once that the series may have ended with Dead Man’s Reach. Say it ain’t so D.B. Jackson! That novel included the Boston Massacre, one of the key events leading up to the Revolutionary War. But there’s so much more rich history to be covered, from the Boston Tea Party, to Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Paul Revere has even made a cameo in the series. Ethan Kaille was becoming one of the iconic heroes in historical fantasy fiction, and I have to believe he and Uncle Reg have a few more adventures left in them.