Lady Lauren's Panacea
PRESCRIPTION: Thieves' Quarry by D.B. Jackson
SYMPTOMS: Hhistorical urban fantasy, revolutionary war, tricornpunk, cool magic system,
historical characters, mystery
DOSAGE: (out of five)
This series had me at "Revolutionary-War era urban fantasy." When I heard the premise of
Thieftaker, the first in D.B. Jackson's new series, I knew I had to read it. Ethan Kaille, whose
profession gives the first book its title, works freelance hunting down thieves to retrieve stolen
items, and sometimes to bring them to justice at the hands of Boston's largely ineffective local
government. His status as an ex-convict, released after serving years of labor in the West Indies
for the crime of mutiny, is well known, but the fact that he is a conjuror is not. Or so he thought.
When a powerful merchant hires him to investigate the murder of his daughter, Ethan staggers
into a magic-laced plot involving an anonymous conjuror of terrifying power that might very
well get him killed.
The fact that there's a sequel pretty much spoils the question of whether Ethan dies, but knowing
he makes it will not diminish enjoyment of the first book, especially for those who like to see the
heroes get beaten up. Often. After finishing Thieftaker, it was hard to imagine how Jackson
could raise the stakes in Thieves' Quarry, but he did, and he did it by bringing in Mother
Ethan is a grave hero with a well-developed past. One of the most interesting things about him is
that he is loyal to England. I'm used to reading stories of patriot protagonists fighting for
freedom from George III, but Ethan is no such hero. Neither is he an unquestioning loyalist,
though, so with tension heating up and the revolutionary war brewing, I look forward to seeing if
his loyalties shift in future books. My favorite character was Mr. Pell, a priest who disagrees
with the church's hatred toward conjuring. The best thing about the characters in the series is
that they are not caricatures of their beliefs.
Two aspects that stand out most about the series, however, are the historical and speculative
elements. The details about clothing, food and politics, the professions of minor characters, and
the way the characters talk all add to the milieu in a way that is not distracting. That's part of the
joy of reading historical fiction by an author with a PhD in history. There's no awkward "hey,
look what I learned about bullseye glass" moment that draws the reader out of the text, but a
familiarity that makes the world Ethan lives in both richer and more grounded. That confidence
of setting helped make the weaving of speculative elements into the culture and history seamless
I'm a sucker for cool magic systems, and what I noticed right away about Ethan's magic is the
use of "spirit guides" - ghost-like beings that appear whenever a conjuror uses magic. Ethan's
guide, a grumpy old man nicknamed Uncle Reg, is the force that gives action to his casting. The
second element is the necessity to verbalise spells - in Ethan's case, in Latin, though an African
side-character gives me the impression that it's not limited to that language. The third element,
which any Dungeons and Dragons player who's ever had a Wizard in her party will be familiar
with, is components. First you have to find a component to use, and then you hope you know the
Latin word for it. This is probably why Ethan gets the crap kicked out of him so often. If I had to
remember how to conjugate the Latin word for grass into the accusative case (or is it ablative?), I
probably wouldn't make it off my front porch.
Call it historical urban fantasy or call it tricornpunk, if you like history, mystery, and gritty urban
fantasy, you will not call Ethan's newest story a disappointment.
PRESCRIPTION: Spirit & Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore
SYMPTOMS: quirky contemporary YA fantasy, snarky first-person narration, ghosts, Egyptian
DOSAGE: (out of five)
Spirit & Dust was the first book I'd ever read by Rosemary Clement-Moore, but it won't be the
last. Simply put, this book was entertaining as hell. If Indiana Jones hooked up with the Ghost
Whisperer and had a geeky teenage daughter, this would be her story. The heroine, Daisy
Goodnight, is a 5'10" redheaded gazelle of a psychic from a long line of supernaturally-talented
women. Her particular ability to communicate with ghosts lands her an unofficial gig with the
FBI, who is investigating the kidnapping of a young woman, starting with her murdered
bodyguard. When Daisy herself is kidnapped from the police station, things get even weirder.
First off, she was kidnapped by the kidnapped girl's father, a powerful crime lord who uses
magic and blackmail to get what he wants. Then, he forces her into a magical geas tasking her to
look for his daughter, only this time without the FBI's interference. Understandably, Daisy is
suspicious, and the fact that her personal jailer/bodyguard, Carson, looks like a model for the
mafia issue of Men's Health doesn't dispel that suspicion, though it is distracting. What follows
is a fast-paced story full of magical explosions, Egyptian mythology, ghosts of varying degrees
of helpfulness, and good, old-fashioned lies and betrayal.
The three things I liked most about this book were Daisy's voice, the worldbuilding surrounding
the supernatural elements, and the use of the Chicago Field Museum as the stage for the final
battle. Because Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in the actual Chicago Field Museum, is
awesome. Though the plot itself occasionally had me wondering when and how all the elements
were going to come together, the ending tied things up nicely and left enough open for potential
Daisy, with her bleeding heart, geeky references, and affinity for Coca Cola is a refreshing
change from the tortured teenager of many YA paranormals, and it was nice to step into a novel
where the heroine is already comfortable with her power and its limitations. The challenges to
those limitations - both supernatural and moral - did a great job showing what Daisy is made of
and had me squinting at my phone reader way past my bedtime.
Spirit & Dust takes place in the same world as Texas Gothic, Clement-Moore's first book in the
world, which I have not read. The depth of worldbuilding was clear, but Clement-Moore handled
exposition deftly and kept it relevant to Daisy's knowledge and the scope of Spirit & Dust, so
reading Texas Gothic is not necessary to understand the story. I appreciated the explanations of
energy exchange with respect to magic, and how that came to relate to ghosts and Daisy's
mission to find the kidnapped girl.
The one disappointment for me was the romantic aspect of the story. I like a little romance in my
fiction (and will create it myself if I have to), but I just couldn't get on board the Carson train.
My personal crush was definitely on Agent Taylor, Daisy's FBI handler of the sarcastic-and-competent-man-in-uniform variety, on whom Daisy also has an inappropriate crush. Dearest
reader, I ship it.
Despite my lukewarm feelings toward Carson, the story's ending was satisfying and left me
wanting to know what happened with all the characters next. The ghost elements are not creepy,
so horror fans beware of that expectation, but readers who enjoy snarky humor, geeky
references, quirky heroines, and Egyptian mythology will get a steel-tipped kick out of this book.
Read more by Lauren Harris