Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Study of the Feminine Graces: Wit, Charm, Snark, and Theft

Thief's Covenant
Ari Marmell
Pyr Books
Hardcover, 273 p., $16.95
various ebook editions (Nook, Kindle) $7.99

I've heard of Ari Marmell, but until now I hadn't read one of his books.  Thief's Covenant won't be the last. 

Part of Pyr's new YA line, this is a fun, albeit dark, novel.  The central character is Widdershins, formerly known as Adrienne Satti.  She's an orphan, at one time adopted into a noble family.  Until she was witness and sole survivor of a massacre at the temple of her god.  Fearing she would be blamed for the killings, she fled back to the slums, adopting the identity of Widdershins.

Oh, and there's one thing.  Her god went with her. 

That's one of the unique things about the world Marmell has created.  At some point in the past, a Pact was formed among the gods and their worshippers.  There are 147 sanctioned gods, and strict rules apply to how they and their followers interact, with a Church to oversee the whole setup.  The god Widdershins was worshiping wasn't one of the 147. 

That was two years ago.  Now things are beginning to heat up in the city of Davillon.  The Archbishop is coming for a visit.  The people behind the massacre are still looking for Adrienne.  The Taskmaster of the Finder's Guild (the Thieves' Guild, in other words) has a personal vendetta against her.  Widdershins is beginning to take more and more risks.  And someone, somewhere, is about to make a vicious play for power.

For a YA novel, this one is pretty complicated.  There are a number of named characters, both major and minor, the plot is complex, and things get pretty dark at times.  The dust jacket says the book is for readers twelve and up, but I'm not sure how many twelve year olds are emotionally mature enough for some of the content.

But then my son has several years to go before he reaches that age, so I tend to think in terms of what would be appropriate for him.

Regardless, this was a great book.  Marmell is definitely an author I'm going to read again, probably starting with The Goblin Corps, his previous book for Pyr.  Marmell writes from the viewpoint of multiple characters, giving us a fully fleshed-out world and allowing us to see certain individuals through multiple eyes.  This is highly effective; the reader understands the interactions between the characters more than they do themselves. 

The society is modeled after French nobility in the years before the French Revolution, so there's some contrast between the haves and the have-nots. Widdershins has a habit of sneaking into balls and parties in disguise.  This isn't an era I've seen used much in recent fantasy, so the setting was a nice touch (and the source of this review's title).

The humor and verbal fencing were delightfully cheeky, perfect for a YA novel.  Here's a sample from a flashback showing Widdershins' first day in an orphanage:  "Sister Cateline smiled shallowly at the dull, mumbled chorus of amen, already drowned out by the scraping of cheap wooden spoons on cheap wooden bowls, scooping up mouthfuls of cheap porridge (probably not wooden, but who could really say for certain?)."  Clearly Marmell is a man who has eaten lunch in the school cafeteria and on more than one occasion.

That's another thing Marmell does well, the flashbacks.  Almost every other chapter shows an incident in Widdershins' past.  We get a little more information about her and about events that led to the present crisis, but never in one large serving.  Instead, Marmell uses the flashbacks to serve up small bites, whetting our appetites while at the same time making us hungry for more.  It's one of the most effective uses of flashbacks to build suspense and create a sense of mystery that I've seen in a long time.

This is the first in a series.  False Covenant is due out in June, and I'll be watching for it.

Whether you're twelve in real years, or merely still twelve in some part of your heart, Thief's Covenant is a book I highly recommend. 


  1. Thanks for the review. Yeah. Goblin Corps definitely caught my eye on the shelf. I'll probably put it on my list now.

  2. Conqueror's Shadow looks good, too. (How do you get italics to work in the replies? Argh.)