Ethan Kaille isn’t the likeliest hero. A former sailor with a troubled past, Ethan is a thieftaker, using conjuring skills to hunt down those who steal from the good citizens of Boston. And while chasing down miscreants in 1768 makes his life a perilous one, the simmering political tensions between loyalists like himself and rabble-rousing revolutionaries like Samuel Adams and others of his ilk are perhaps even more dangerous to his health.
When one hundred sailors of King George III’s Royal Navy are mysteriously killed on a ship in Boston Harbor, Ethan is thrust into dire peril. For he—and not Boston’s premier thieftaker, Sephira Pryce—is asked to find the truth behind their deaths. City Sheriff Edmund Greenleaf suspects conjuring was used in the dastardly crime, and even Pryce knows that Ethan is better equipped to contend with matters of what most of Boston considers dark arts. But even Ethan is daunted by magic powerful enough to fell so many in a single stroke. When he starts to investigate, he realizes that the mass murderer will stop at nothing to evade capture. And making his task more difficult is the British fleet’s occupation of the city after the colonials’ violent protests after the seizure of John Hancock’s ship. Kaille will need all his own magic, street smarts, and a bit of luck to keep this Boston massacre from giving the hotheads of Colonial Boston an excuse for inciting a riot—or worse.
A pet peeve of mine for any fictional story taking place within a historical background is when the author sacrifices the story in an effort to show off how much research s/he did on the era. Or worse yet, when no research was done and it’s obvious. Historic fiction can be brutal, especially when you add touches such as the main protagonist being a wielder of magic, or a conjurer.
DB Jackson’s Thieves’ Quarry, the sequel to Thieftaker, is a book that should serve as a blueprint on how to properly write historic urban fantasy. It’s obvious when the story is taking place; there are some detailed descriptions involved, but not so much the reader loses sight of the plot.
It’s also a simple story and by that, I mean no disrespect to the world Jackson, who has a Ph.D. in American History, has created in colonial Boston the decade prior to the beginning of the Revolutionary War. I say simple in that, again, it’s written so well the reader can easily follow along without having to take notes. As a sequel, it’s also a book that stands alone. References are made to the hero’s prior adventures, but not in such an overly-specific manner that necessitates a reading of the first book.
Said hero is Ethan Kaille, a Boston-based conjurer working as a thieftaker. A thieftaker, an actual occupation of the time, was someone hired to find items that had been stolen e.g. someone steals a valued pocket-watch and the victim hires a thieftaker to find the thief, find the watch, and return it for a monetary reward.
Kaille’s line of work brings him into constant conflict with the beautiful and treacherous Sephira Price. Despite no supernatural powers of her own, Sephira is not one to cross, as Ethan is reminded very early and very often throughout the book.
After a run-in with Ms. Price, representatives of the Crown, thanks to Ethan’s upper-class and snobbish brother-in-law, seeks Ethan to solve the mystery of how an entire ship of British soldiers and sailors have died, seemingly without a single wound or ailment. It is here we see the prejudice and fear Ethan faces as a conjurer as the very British officials who have hired him display their distaste in working with him, as does the British law enforcement within Boston. The Salem Witch Trials are still within recent memory for both Ethan and those who wish him gone or, better yet, dead.
From here, the story takes some great twists and turns with some surprising alliances and even more surprising betrayals. I can honestly say Thieves’ Quarry is the first book I’ve read in a very long time that never lost my attention and honestly had me riveted from the first page. As a lover of history, it was also very interesting to see the involvement of some pretty famous names of the time make appearances.
Simply said, this is a world of characters I look forward to spending a lot of time with in the future.