Thief's Covenant by Ari Marmell
"Once she was Adrienne Satti. An orphan of Davillon, she had somehow escaped destitution and climbed to the ranks of the city’s aristocracy in a rags-to-riches story straight from an ancient fairy tale. Until one horrid night, when a conspiracy of forces—human and other—stole it all away in a flurry of blood and murder.
Today she is Widdershins, a thief making her way through Davillon’s underbelly with a sharp blade, a sharper wit, and the mystical aid of Olgun, a foreign god with no other worshippers but Widdershins herself. It’s not a great life, certainly nothing compared to the one she once had, but it’s hers.
But now, in the midst of Davillon’s political turmoil, an array of hands are once again rising up against her, prepared to tear down all that she’s built. The City Guard wants her in prison. Members of her own Guild want her dead. And something horrid, something dark, something ancient is reaching out for her, a past that refuses to let her go. Widdershins and Olgun are going to find answers, and justice, for what happened to her—but only if those who almost destroyed her in those years gone by don’t finish the job first." (from Goodreads)
The subject: a girl who's busy stealing riches, hiding from the law, evading thugs, and hanging out at the "Flippant Witch" tavern in her spare time. Widdershins lives on the edge, brave to the point of foolhardiness; she's crafty, but sometimes underestimates her adversaries and overestimates her own skills. Though she has her own sort of moral code most of the time — as in, stealing's fine, but not murder — when push comes to shove she can be pretty ruthless, and I couldn't get behind all of the choices she makes.
The setting: the city of Davillon, in a world with a bit of a 'historical urban fantasy' feel (but not set in our world's history, obviously).
Shutter speed: for a fantasy adventure, it's actually fairly slow-moving and dense. It's written in third-person omniscient, alternating between many characters, which works to draw the mystery out. There's no shortage of fights, but I thought the action scenes could have been quicker-paced.
What's in the background? An interesting religious system. The gods rely heavily on their followers' worship, and if the god has no more followers, he or she is basically "dead." It makes sense, then, that Olgun is "attached" to Adrienne, and I thought this was a neat way to make Adrienne a target. Olgun comes in very handy to help Adrienne out of some tight pinches (a little too handy, perhaps, at the end when it really counts) but since there are limits to his powers, she has to do a lot of work the rest of the time.
Zoom in on: the emotional connection. This is definitely a story that's more about the 'swashbuckling,' so to speak (no pirates, but there are plenty of brawls and lots of the grotesque factor). Numerous deaths happen, but I wasn't bawling my eyes out for any of them. While I understand the focal point is the adventure, I do wish there'd been more of an emotional connection. The angle that comes closest is probably Adrienne's relationship with Alexandre, since he's one of the few people she cares about.
I also would have welcomed more scenes involving Julien Bouniard (a member of the Guard). He's out of his depth dealing with Widdershins but doesn't realize it, and their interactions are actually pretty cute. In an odd kind of way they respect each other, but at the same time, Widdershins is constantly giving him the run-around. I wanted to see these two get together but it seems like the author is hinting at a different character for Adrienne's love interest (there isn't any romance in this book, but I suspect there may be in sequels).
Anything out of focus? The plot is complicated and difficult to follow; I found myself repeatedly flipping back to try to figure out what was going on. It was difficult to keep all of the characters and groups/organizations straight, and remember who knew what/had gone where/was working for whom/etc.
Ready? Say... "Thieving and murder and secrets, oh my!"
Click! 3.5 shooting stars. It took me several tries to get into this one, I think partly because the prose seemed overwritten, giving me more of an 'adult fantasy' vibe than YA (I believe Ari Marmell has previously written adult fantasy novels but this is his first YA book). As I continued to read, though, I got used to the writing style and it didn't bother me that much.
Note: There is some mature content (namely, scenes of violence) in this book.
Disclaimer: I received this for review from the publisher.
This book counts towards my goal for the 2012 Debut Author challenge.