Hot off of yesterday’s review of Thieftaker, I thought I’d point you to a fun short story written by D.B. Jackson and published on Tor.com that ties into the series and introduces readers to Ethan Kaille, the titular protagonist of the series.
Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker in Colonial Boston, scratching out a living by restoring stolen property to its rightful owners. But unlike others in his profession, Ethan relies on magical spells as well as his wits to track down thieves. Being a conjurer doesn’t make him popular with the law in Boston, so Ethan is taken aback when the sheriff seeks his help in settling a dispute between a pair of wealthy merchants and a ship’s captain who has threatened their lives. Ethan knows the captain can back up his threats with magic of his own. But there is more to this matter than the merchants have let on, and Ethan soon discovers that what he doesn’t know might actually kill him.
You can read D.B. Jackson’s “A Spell of Vengeance” on Tor.com. If you’re interested in more from Jackson, he recently wrote a great guest post here on A Dribble of Ink, What Do Authors of Historical Fiction Owe to History?
By D.B. Jackson
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: 07/03/12
Prior to reading D.B. Jackson’s (aka: David B. Coe) most recent novel, my only exposure to the idea of a thieftaker, or a private individual hired to capture criminals, was Julian Sandar from Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time. Interestingly, my only experience with pre-Revolution America in genre fiction also came by way of Robert Jordan in his Fallon Blood series written under the pseudonym Reagan O’Neal. Jackson’s Thieftaker lifts both limitations, deftly blending historical fiction and urban fantasy to create a who-dun-it dressed up with tricorn hats and blood magic.
Set in 1765 in Boston, Massachusetts, during The Stamp Act riots, Thieftaker follows the exploits of Ethan Kaille, Jackson’s protagonist and only point of view character. Making his living finding stolen goods, Ethan is also a speller, capable of turning organic material into magical energy. When he’s asked to recover a necklace worn by the murdered daughter of a prominent royalist, he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy to upset the delicate balance between Britain and her colonies.
As that summation suggest, Ethan is the narrative impetus, and the vehicle that Jackson uses to snare the reader. His history, power, and moral center held my interest despite a standard crime fiction plot structure that won’t overwhelm anyone with its inventiveness. In particular, it’s Ethan’s back story and how conjurers interact in a world that reviles their existence which gives Thieftaker its unique flavor. Continue reading
Writers often draw upon history, be it for inspiration, for setting, for character, for plot ideas, or for some combination of these. Recently, I have embarked on a new phase in my career, turning from epic fantasy to what I call historical urban fantasy. And even as I borrow so many of my ideas from the past, I find myself wondering what I owe history in return.
I have a Ph.D. in U.S. history, and though I have been a refugee from academia for far longer than I was actually a part of it, I still harbor a certain reverence for the study of our past, and a near-obsessive concern for historical accuracy. I also understand that “accuracy” is a term that is both freighted with unintended meanings and nearly impossible to define for more than one person at any given moment. Still, to the extent possible, I want to get the easily-verified stuff right. I want to put the correct people in the correct place at the correct time.
The first thing I owe to history: attention to detail. This is not to say that I can’t bend some “facts” to my own purposes.
That I believe, is the first thing I owe to history: attention to detail. This is not to say that I can’t bend some “facts” to my own purposes. Authors do that all the time. Indeed, often that is the point of our work, whether it’s giving the Confederacy superior weaponry — as Harry Turtledove famously did in The Guns of the South — or having Charles Lindbergh, an anti-Semite and white supremacist, defeat Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 Presidential election — as Philip Roth did in The Plot Against America. In my new book, Thieftaker, I portray Boston in 1765 as accurately as possible, with two notable exceptions: First, in my book the city’s population includes some people who are conjurers, and second, the city has at least two thieftakers working within its boundaries. I’ll leave a discussion of magic and conjuring for another day, but I will readily admit that thieftakers did not actually appear in any North American city until the early 19th century and then only for a very brief period.
Boston, c. 1768
So, one may ask, if we can add thieftakers and conjurers to a city population, or give modern machine guns to the army of the Confederacy, or change the outcome of a Presidential election that occurred over seventy years ago, all in the interests of satisfying our narrative needs, how could it possibly matter what color Samuel Adams’ house was painted? And while I know it’s not a satisfactory answer to the question, I will start by saying “Because it just does.” Continue reading