Tales of the Thieftaker is a collection of short fiction about Jackson’s Ethan Kaille, a conjurer and thieftaker in colonial Boston. There are ten short stories and one novella—the never before told story of the Ruby Blade mutiny (full TOC below the review). I am a big fan of the now defunct Thieftaker Chronicles. You can find my reviews of the four novels here, here, here, and here.
These stories (except for The Ruby Blade) were originally published separately, and they aren’t very “bingeable.” Jackson tends to repeat a lot of little details. Whether that is a feature or a bug depends on how familiar you are with the universe and the characters. It kept me from blowing through the stories. (If you are thinking about making this your introduction to the Thieftaker Chronicles, it would work, but I would still recommend starting with the first novel. Publication order rules once again.)
As you might suspect, the stories focus on Ethan Kaille, the titular “thieftaker,” but he does not appear in three stories—The Cully and An Encounter with Sephira Pryce (focused on Sephira) and The Tavern Fire (focused on his sometimes ally and another Boston conjurer, Janna). But the best stories are about Kaille (Jackson likes using Sephira in his stories perhaps a bit too much).
My two favorite stories are A Memory of Freedom and The Witch of Dedham. A Memory of Freedom is the first story to feature Kaille, both published and in this collection. It is Kaille’s “origin story” of how he came to be a thieftaker, and to reaccept his conjuring after swearing it off after the events on the Ruby Blade. It is good to see Kaille both making a moral choice and taking agency in his life (and successfully). In too many of the stories Kaille does too little and too poorly.
That being said, in my other favorite story Kaille does very little. The Witch of Dedham revolves around Kaille traveling to the outskirts of Boston after hearing a woman is to be hanged as a witch. It is a story with little-to-no action, but the reveal of what led a young woman to the noose is powerful.
The other story of note is the Ruby Blade mutiny novella. Jackson interweaves it with a “current day” (i.e., post-Dead Man’s Reach) mystery. It is a fine story but doesn’t quite rise to the level of the novels.
Table of Contents:
The Tavern Fire
A Memory of Freedom
The Price of Doing Business
A Spell of Vengeance
The Witch of Dedham
The Spelled Blade
A Passing Storm
A Walking Tour of Boston, Narrated by Ethan Kaille
An Encounter with Sephira Pryce
The Ruby Blade (novella)
4 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: Jackson sent me a review copy.