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Literature / The Thieftaker Chronicles

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Written by D.B. Jackson and first published in 2013, Thieftaker and subsequent novels are Historical Fantasy fiction taking place in Boston during the the mid-to-late 1700s, just before the Revolutionary war. 

The Thieftaker Chronicles follow Ethan Kaile, secret wizard, former mutineer, the titular thieftaker (a kind of bounty hunter hired by the robbed and burgled in times before modern policing) as he's hired to find and return stolen goods in pre-Revolutionary Boston— something that puts him in direct competition with Sephira Pryce,  head of the criminal underworld in Boston, who manages thief taking for the wealthy. However, Ethan has something Sephira doesn't; the ability to work magic. As a conjurer or speller, Ethan can call on a spirit of an ancient knight to help him use magic in order to find goods and thieves more easily. Unfortunately, this is in the era of witch hangings, meaning Ethan must keep his magic under his hat as best he can. 


Trouble begins when Ethan starts getting hired by wealthy and wealthier clientele to solve crimes that go beyond mere thievery. Soon Ethan is getting mixed into matters of murder, politics, and dark magic, with his only allies being a silent but irritable ghost that serves as his spirit guide, a young minister with his own hidden knack for magic, and the hot-tempered owner of the local tavern, all while the city and the colonies themselves are splintering under British rule. 

The books in the series are:

  1. Thieftaker (2012)
  2. Thieves Quarry (2013)
  3. A Plunder of Souls (2014)
  4. Dead Man's Reach (2015)

And the collection of short stories, Tales of the Thieftaker (2017).


Provides examples of:

  • Alpha Bitch: Sephira Pryce.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Diver as of the last book.
  • A Father to His Men: For much of the series, Ethan believes Sephira's men are nothing but hired grunts. However, he comes to learn that they all genuinely care for her and respect her ruthlessness, and she cares for them in return.
  • Agony of the Feet: Ethan lost three toes during his time in forced labor, resulting in chronic pain that continues throughout the novel. In A Plunder of Souls, the villain desecrates the bodies of his victims by cutting off their toes, just to mock Ethan.
  • Ban on Magic: Seeing as the stories take place during the days of routine witch hangings, this tripe is in full effect. Ethan's conjuring abilities may be the worst kept secret in Boston, but if anyone ever actually accused him outright of witchcraft, he'd likely be put to death.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Ethan to Diver. Ethan is much older, but the two have been friends for decades, with Ethan having tried to keep Diver on the straight and narrow (albeit to little success). Even though Diver is grown now, Ethan still tries to look out for him and keep him from getting into trouble. 
  • The Big Guy: Kelf, the barman and security for the Dowsing Rod.
  • Blood Magic: Ethan's most reliable source of magic is using his own blood, to the point where anyone who wants to strong arm him makes sure to remove his knife first.
  • Bounty Hunter: Ethan is a thief taker, a position held in England (and in this case, the colonial states) before the creation of modern policing. Individuals pay him to hunt down thieves and retrieve stolen property.
  • Brought Down to Normal: In A Plunder of Souls, one of the effects of the villain's plan is preventing other conjurers from working magic. Spells don't work reliably for much of the book, and Ethan begins to realize how much he relied on his magic to heal him.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Sephira and her toughs enjoy tormenting Ethan, reminding him that he only has work because Sephira allows him to work in the city. This is despite the fact that if Ethan wanted to, he could kill them in a number of violently magical ways before they could stop him. Only his morals and his reluctance to gain a death sentence for their murders keeps him in check.
  • Burn the Witch!: One of the threats "spellers" and conjurers have is to deal with is the fact that witchcraft is illegal, and those found to be using magic (or accused of it) are still hanged or burned.
  • Casts No Shadow: In Thieftaker, Ethan finally realizes Anna is an illusion because she doesn't have a shadow.  
  • The Cavalry: Sam Adams, Pell, et al coming in just before Ethan is about to be sacrificed for a spell. 
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Every conjurer's magic is a different color. Ethan's is a rusty shade of red, Janna's is blue, Mariz is beige. Darrow's is gold, Nathaniel Ramsey's is green.
    • Becomes a plot point in Thieves Quarry when the murderer's orange magic is revealed to have actually been two different conjurers working together, something Ethan hadn't thought possible before.
  • Double Agent: Peter Darrow appears to be an ally of the Sons of Liberty, but is actually an agent of the Crown sent to sow disruption in their order.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: In A Plunder of Souls, the main villain is motivated by his late father, seeking to take revenge on those who had abused him in life and, eventually, to resurrect him from the dead.
    • To a lesser extent, Nigel, one of Sephira's toughs who has been yearning to murder Ethan since they first met, is revealed to have a loving wife and two children.
  • Enemy Mine: In ''A Plunder of Souls', Sephira and Ethan have to work together despite their animosity towards one another in order to even stand a chance against Ramsey. Sephira even ensures that Sheriff Greenleaf doesn't find some way to blame Ethan for the magic being thrown around.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Nathaniel Ramsey, who greets Ethan with a hug and declares him a Worthy Opponent one second, then violently tortures him while chatting about his plans the next. Ethan is convinced that Ramsey is insane due to this behavior.
  • Fiery Red Head: Kannice Lester, Ethan's love interest and the owner and proprietor of the Dowsing Rod tavern.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Ethan's current love interest, Kannice Lester, has red hair.
  • Historical Domain Character: Samuel Adams, one of the Sons of Liberty Ethan runs into during his investigation.
  • Historical Fantasy: It's the American Revolution, but with magic!
  • Honor Before Reason: Ethan's friends are quick to point out how the smart thing for him to do would be to turn down dangerous jobs, or to take the money and run instead of getting tangled up in solving Jennifer Berson's murder. 
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Darrow had no idea the girl he killed to sustain his magic was a wealthy loyalist's daughter. He had just been looking for an easy victim, but because of her family's status and renown the murder quickly became big news, and the girl's father was able to hire the only conjurer in town who was even remotely qualified to find the murderer. Later, when he has Ethan at his mercy, rather than immediately murdering him to power another spell, he succumbs to Evil Gloating, then trying to convince Mackintosh to kill Ethan for him, giving other characters time to come in for a Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • In the Blood: Magical ability is said to be passed down genetically. Ethan and his siblings all have the ability to conjure from their mother, though his sister Bett rejects it
  • Inspector Javert: Sheriff Greenleaf towards Ethan. He really wants Ethan to admit he's a witch so he'll have an excuse to hang him.
  • I See Dead People: Conjurers can see each other's guiding spirits unless special care has been taken to keep them unseen.
  • La Résistance: The Sons of Liberty, led in this case by Samuel Adams.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: There are three main branches of magic: Elemental, Blood, and Death. Elemental magic is conjured from the elements (air, wind, fire, etc), but is essentially limited to illusions. Blood magic is powered by blood and actually affects the world, and death magic is powered by taking the life of a living being and using that energy to power spells. 
  • Magical Guide: All conjurers have a spirit bound to them who helps them in their magic by bridging the physical world with the spirit world. Ethan's guide, Uncle Reg, is a spectre of a grizzled warrior in medieval armor who cannot speak, but makes it clear what he thinks of Ethan and his abilities
  • The Mutiny: Part of Ethan's backstory that earns him some degree of infamy. While younger characters don't recognize his name, older ones are more likely to mistrust him due to the rumors about the mutiny and the magic that was purportedly thrown around during it.
    • As revealed in Tales of the Thieftaker, Ethan joined the Ruby Blade as a 2nd mate. Unbeknownst to him, he was hired on by the mutinous first mate specifically for his magical ability. The first mate then arranged for the captain to commit several acts of Disproportionate Retribution in front of Ethan (among other things, whipping a fifteen year old to near-death), thus convincing him that the Captain needed to be ousted. The mate proves to be far more cruel than the captain, to the point where he's having men brutalized for the sole purpose of keeping Ethan busy and tired healing them all, and Ethan mutinees against him, saving the Captain and loyal sailors. The fact that he doubled back and saved the crew is what saves him from execution, but the mutiny itself earned him over a decade in hard labor.
  • Necromancer: Nathaniel Ramsey. Technically necromancy isn't it's own particular school of magic— all magic relies on a connection to at least one spirit, but his plans involved binding all the dead of Boston in order to prevent anyone else from being able to work magic, as well as resurrect his father.
  • Never Found the Body: The cliffhanger of A Plunder of Souls is that Nathaniel Ramsey's body is never recovered and his ship is gone, leaving Ethan and company to wonder if he survived, or if his crew left without him.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Janna Windcatcher is an elderly woman and self described "Marriage Smith" who runs a beat up tavern. She's also the most knowledgeable conjurer in Boston, and proves in A Plunder of Souls that she can keep up her end in a fight despite her age.
  • Our Spirits Are Different: Uncle Reg, Anna, and other spirits are connected to conjurers and help them work magic. They cannot speak, but some (like Reg) can make their opinions known by their body language. Ethan doesn't know where they come from or why they attach themselves to conjurers, but he suspects Reg is probably some ancient relative of his. 
  • Rabid Cop: Sheriff Greenleaf despises Ethan and his magic, and isn't above blaming him (or outright framing him) for any magical crime that gets done, all while bragging about how much he wants to see Ethan hanged for witchcraft.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: As Ethan digs deeper and deeper into the murder, more and more people from different factions come out offering him peace and money if he would only leave it alone and allow Mackintosh, a vocal critic of British rule in the Colonies, to be framed. Ethan refuses to let an innocent man hang, even though he himself is loyal to the British government. 
    • To a smaller degree, many of the items Ethan finds for his clientele are worth more than what the clients are paying him. For a small thief taker to stay in business, he has to be scrupulously honest with his clients' property, or else word will spread and nobody would hire him.
  • Spirit Adviser: Uncle Reg is bound to Ethan by magical means and aids him with his magic. However, rather than being a supportive figure, he spends his time glaring at Ethan for daring conjure him, acting bored whenever Ethan is doing work that doesn't involve an immediate battle, and laughing at him whenever he gets beaten up. 
  • Third Act Stupidity: Darrow, after having presented himself as a highly powerful and ruthless conjurer, succumbs to Evil Gloating in the climax, choosing to have Mackintosh meet a bound and gagged Ethan and convince him that he should murder Ethan, despite the fact that he is going to use Ethan's life force to power a spell to control Mackintosh's actions and change his memory
  • Torches and Pitchforks: In the first book, the politically charged rioting and growing sedition following the Stamp Act plays a role in helping the villain mask his crimes and provides him a scapegoat.
  • We Can Rule Together: Darrow would like Ethan to join him, as he appreciates Ethan's loyalty to the crown and later comes to respect his potential as a conjurer. 
    • Nathaniel makes the offer to Ethan, but he breaks Ethan's arm immediately after and sets him on fire, so it was likely a ruse.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The villain of the story would have succeeded had he just killed Ethan, not just in the middle of the story when he was still scoping Ethan out as a potential ally, but during the climax when he already had Ethan completely in his power and was going to use him as the next sacrifice anyway. The villain had been shown to be able to use the sacrifice spell from a distance, but instead he chose to have both of his targets in one location so that he could mock Ethan for it.
    • By the end of the first book, Sephira Pryce is a legitimate threat to Ethan and his loved ones, has attempted to kill him on multiple occasions, has murdered people Ethan has spared and has no doubt murdered and framed many more, and is in a position that should she ever accuse Ethan formally of witchcraft, he would be immediately executed on her word. In other words, she's someone that Ethan ought to have gotten rid of by now. Ethan himself has reflected that he could kill Sephira in dozens and dozens of different ways without even expending much effort. The explanation given is that as powerful as Sephira is, her political allies would likely figure out it was him who had done it, and while he may hate her guts, he doesn't want her dead so much that he'd hang for it. 

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