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Shadowhawk reviews the first Widdershins Adventures fantasy novel by Ari Marmell, Thief’s Covenant, published by Pyr Books.
“An engaging read that quickly pulls you in, Thief’s Covenant is a must-read novel for all fantasy readers.” ~The Founding Fields
I hadn’t heard of Ari Marmell or Pyr Books until fairly recently, and that too through twitter. I follow a fair few authors on there and a whole bunch of them got together in February for a joint competition called ‘Crossing the streams’. Said contest involved commenting on these author’s blogs or answering one of their questions (that were also posted on their blogs) and so on. So that’s how I “came to know” Ari Marmell and his work. Wasn’t long before I contacted Pyr Books and requested a review copy of Ari’s first Widdershins Adventure novel, mostly because it was a fantasy story about a girl thief (which I believe is quite rare in fantasy) and because I think the novel’s cover art is gorgeous. I’ve read quite a few praise for Ari’s work in general and Thief’s Covenant in particular so I went in expecting a decent enough read that is quite different and yet similar to some of the other fantasy reading I’ve been doing lately.
Neither Ari nor Thief’s Covenant disappointed me in that respect.
The novel begins on a pretty rough and bloody prologue and quickly progresses to show us the life of the girl thief Widdershins, formerly the noblewoman Adrienne Satti, in the city of Davillon. I was hooked immediately because Ari’s writing from the start is very engaging and atmospheric. He doesn’t waste any time with fancy metaphors or throw descriptions at you one after another like some kind of flood but he brings you in slowly and firmly, more like a stubborn yet gentle stream. I’ve had to stop reading two novels in the past month because the opening chapters dragged on and on for no reason and didn’t really go anywhere either and I’m quickly coming to depend a lot on how the opening chapters are written and whether or not they have an effect on me. Widdershins, Ari and Thief’s Covenant kept me turning the pages over and over to find out what was going to happen next.
I’ve read Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Tasslehoff Burrfoot, Raymond E. Feist’s Jimmy the Hand and Michael J. Sullivan’s thieving duo of Royce and Hadrian. All excellent characters that are an absolute joy to read, particularly Jimmy, and Widdershins has joined a really stellar group as far as I am concerned.
To begin with, she is a girl thief, which is rare in fantasy fiction. Second, she has a really disarming quality about her that really makes you want to read what she is going to do or say next. Ari has definitely enjoyed writing her character and this shows up repeatedly in the novel. Her motivations are believable, her confidence in her abilities is appreciable, has a healthy disrespect for authority and control like any good thief and she is a fairly well-rounded character. But not all is good in Widdershins-land, because she does display a certain rough callousness at times, the kind that is subtle and almost passes you by until you read something and go: “This did not just happen!”. In a good way of course.
Widdershins is the star of the novel, undeniably so, and she does have a magnetic personality and attitude to go with it. That’s how I prefer my thieving protagonists to be like and wouldn’t have it any other way.
While Ari’s characterisation of his protagonist is pretty spot-on and excellent, it is his supporting cast that I believe suffers in the bargain. None of them really get any significant screen-time. William de Laurent, Genevieve, Alexandre Delacroix, Renard Lambert, Julien Bouniard and some others get their time in the limelight and they do make me want to read more of them but they all appear to be there to enhance Widdershins herself and not be properly credible in their own way. Not in full anyway.
The pacing of the novel is all good and proper. The chapters alternate between different times in Widdershins/Adrienne’s life, giving us a good dose of both her past and present. It is definitely a novel approach as far as I’m concerned and it made Thief’s Covenant more complete for me. Adrienne’s past has a big, big effect on her present and her future and it seems right that we find out just what makes her tick and why her friends and acquaintances like/dislike her. It definitely saves Ari from having to put in some tedious and cliched scenes in the narrative to keep it moving along.
What is really at the heart of the novel is the relationship between gods and their followers. Throughout the novel we get some really tantalising glimpses at the wide variety of gods in the world that Ari has created and it is all very intriguing. Each house having a patron god and each city having a patron god. Makes for some rather complicated connections but fortunately we get only a sample of the many (read 147) gods that inhabit the world rather than the full deal. Makes me really interested to see how the author develops this further in the soon-to-come sequel, False Covenant.
The gods in the world also happen to be very involved with their followers as it were. That is, they take a rather subtle yet noticeable interest in their lives, for good or for ill and seeing how this all comes about through Widdershins, Alexandre, Renard and some of the others is downright fascinating. Once again, a very novel approach to gods in fantasy as far as I can tell based on my past reading.
As a Young Adult fantasy novel, this was a much better, and far more enjoyable, read for me than Sandy Hunter’s Elanraigh: The Vow, which I’ve reviewed here previously. They are as different as you can get – one is very medieval Irish in its feel and setting while the other is very medieval-ish French. This is definitely the type of novels that I love to read and want to read more of.
As for styles and what not, Ari Marmell writes very punchy dialogue with a good, healthy of sarcasm and dry wit from his characters, especially Widdershins. It all adds to the atmospheric nature of the narrative. Thief’s Covenant is a very nice, easy read, much like all of Nathan Long’s novels/works for me, which kinda makes me wish that Nathan should start writing some YA fantasy and that Ari should write some Warhammer fantasy. Both of those would be pretty good match-ups!
Quite simply put, Thief’s Covenant is an all-round excellent novel and I highly recommend it. It has also gotten me interested in reading more of Ari Marmell’s other work which I will hopefully be able to give a go sometime later this year. If not, there is always the next! Adrienne Satti aka Widdershins is also a character to watch out for because aside from all the street-smarts that she has and her skills with her rapier, she has the hand of her god on her all the time. They are the perfect duo for a fantasy novel.
For being such an enjoyable read, I give the novel an 8.5/10. The four month wait for the sequel, False Covenant, is going to be a long one, really long.