Author: Ari Marmell
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publication date: February 14 2012
Hardcover: 240 pages
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.
Stand alone or series: A Widdershins Adventure #1
How did we get this book: Review copies from the publisher via Netgalley
Why did we read this book: A Fantasy novel about a girl-thief for Young Adults from a well-established adult Fantasy publisher? We HAD to read it.
Ana: It is always a pleasure to see a straight-up Fantasy novel published for young adults and I was excited when I learnt that Pyr (a great adult Fantasy publisher) was coming up with an imprint for YA. Although I admit I was expecting a bit more of oomphage from this title, The Thief’s Covenant turned out to be a laid-back, fun, popcorn-Fantasy read with a cool girl-protagonist.
Thea: Like the shallow creature I can be, I fell for this book when I saw the cover (by the brilliant Jason Chan, naturally) – and then when I learned that it was a Pyr title, and one for its new YA focus, I was absolutely smitten. I have to agree firmly with Ana when it comes to the actual book itself, though. While I enjoyed the novel and its resourceful protagonist, there’s a degree of recycled-ness to the tropes, the characters, and the plot at large. That said, The Thief’s Covenant is a diverting, enjoyable, traditional fantasy novel, and certainly readable (though it does lack distinctiveness and oomph that would have taken it from good to GOOD).
On the Plot:
Ana: Once upon a time she was called Adrienne Satti, a street-urchin with a gift for thievery. Then she became part of the aristocratic ranks of Davillon, adopted by a good-hearted patron and slowly making her way toward acceptance…until that fatal day when a conspiracy between humans and Gods took it all away. Now she is Widdershins, the best thief in Davillon. On the run from those who think she is guilty of bloody murder, at odds with the members of her own Guild, mostly alone but for the eternal company of her own private God, Widdershins now has to find a way to keep living when all the odds are against her.
The Thief’s Covenant starts with a veritable bang in an excellent, gripping opening chapter with stakes as high as the sky, but the story progresses with a lot less gumption than its opening act but still in a fast-paced manner. Plot-wise, this is a basically a mystery in a Fantasy backdrop (which includes a sort-of-medieval secondary world setting and the presence of Gods amongst people) and it follows Widdershins and many other characters between present and past as they get involved in a religious-political conspiracy. In that way, The Thief’s Covenant doesn’t really break away from a more conventional setting but it tells its story in a competent way. It’s a fun book and I don’t really have a lot to say about it but sometimes this is more than enough.
With regards to the narrative though there is a lot of head-hopping between several characters as well as time-jumping (from two years ago, to now, to six years ago, to four years ago, back to now and so on and so forth). The latter was a bit distracting and I found myself continuously calculating the heroine’s age – at one point she must have been a 10/11 year old but she certainly didn’t sound like one.
Thea: Yes, what Ana said. The story itself is familiar – the resourceful ragamuffin orphan makes her way through a cutthroat world against all odds, taken under the wing of a wealthy mentor and further honing her skills until it all goes to hell in a handbasket. There’s the familiar trope of our wise-cracking, tongue-in-cheek heroine appearing to talk to herself when really, she’s speaking to a lower god (outside of the Davillon approved pantheon). I think Ari Marmell does a solid job of playing on these tropes and weaves a fast-paced plot with a logical progression and incredibly high stakes. I also loved the world, the city of Davillon and the level of complexity in regards to the political and religious strata.
Then again, the amount of time-jumping was frustrating and distracting – I like the technique of flashing back and forward in a timeline and I like the different things that are revealed about characters and our intrepid Widdershins (and Olgun!) with this technique, but there was a lack of continuity and it did require frequent flipping back and forth to figure out just when in the timeline a certain chapter would be occurring.
On the Characters:
Ana: The best thing about The Thief’s Covenant is Widdershins/Adrienne. She is funny, fun, capable and smart. I liked her immensely and loved her relationship with Olgum, the God that depends on her for his own survival.
On the other characters, although we spend a lot of time inside many characters’ heads, I don’t think any of them are really developed with the depth they deserved. I can’t help but to feel the narrative choice – head-hopping, time-jumping – made many of the plot developments and character arcs seem superficial and perfunctory. Case in point, there is a death of a great female character in the end that served more as a “look, I can be gritty too” rather than to serve the story in any way. In that sense, I would have preferred to have had only Adrianne’s PoV.
Thea: I agree – the best part about this novel has to be Widdershins herself. Smart, tough, wry, and utterly capable, Adrianne is a pretty awesome heroine, and certainly a protagonist that I’m interested in following on other adventures. She might not exactly be unique or groundbreaking as a character (in fact, Adrianne/Widdershins reminded me a lot of a YA female version of Rachel Aaron’s Spirit Thief hero, Eli Monpress), but I love me a heroine with agency. The other memorable character/component is Olgun, Widdershins’ symbiotic companion; a fringe god on the brink of extinction with some very human characteristics and failings.
On the other characters, in particular the death of a certain major character, I wholeheartedly agree with Ana – I get the sense that this was an attempt at Grim and Gritty, but comes off as kind of gratuitous. Too, the Evil Villain is obvious and lacking some much needed complexity. Yet, the strengths of the heroine (and her outcast god) are more than enough to make up the deficit.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: If I sound less than enthusiastic it’s because sometimes one is in the mood for popcorn-reading and I admit I wasn’t when I read the book. I wanted a bit more from this. Still, The Thief’s Covenant is a competent entry-level Fantasy novel which, despite its faults, was fun to read.
Thea: I like popcorn, but I don’t quite think that’s what The Thief’s Covenant was for me. The telling of the story was a bit disjointed and the overall tropes were a little too familiar for me to fully immerse myself in the story – but I enjoyed it for the heroine and the worldbuilding.
Ana: 6 – Good, recommended with reservations
Thea: 6 – Good, recommended with reservations
Want to read The Thief’s Covenant and see for yourself what it’s all about? We have THREE copies to give away, courtesy of the publisher. The contest is open to ALL, and will run until Saturday February 18 at 11:59 (PST). In order to enter, just leave a comment here. Only one entry per person, please! Multiple entries will be disqualified. Good luck!