Valente has a beautifully sparse and evocative style that I respect and adore. It is also absolutely fitted to a western setting.
I thought this was aValente has a beautifully sparse and evocative style that I respect and adore. It is also absolutely fitted to a western setting.
I thought this was a brilliant retelling of Snow White. In this version, Snow White is the daughter of a rich, selfish, greedy man and the Native American woman he threatened into marrying him. The stepmother is a strict, cold woman who has made some sort of deal with an evil force. Snow White is hidden away by her father in near-isolation, taken out only for display. Snow runs away from home and proves what a tough, ferocious girl she truly is.
I loved all the twists on the legend - since Snow is half Native American, the stepmother cruely gave her the nickname “Snow White” to remind her what she could never be. The Hunter is a Pinkerton detective. The seven dwarves are seven tough-as-nails ladies in a town meant for escape.
The ending, though, I did not like. At all. Snow quickly becomes suicidal. The post-magical-slumber period is extremely confusing and rushed. There's a boy-from-the-mirror that is a result of the stepmother's deal with evil that I never quite understood. There's not really a prince at all (except maybe the boy-from-the-mirror but....no. right? or he is meant to be the prince except he's a really, really failed one?)....more
I love it when genres blend. Love it. I mean, it’s great and creative and adds spice to something that can have gotten old hat. This is not only a hisI love it when genres blend. Love it. I mean, it’s great and creative and adds spice to something that can have gotten old hat. This is not only a historical fiction mystery – it’s a historical fiction mystery with magic. YES. MORE FANTASY HISTORICAL MYSTERIES PLEASE (steampunk doesn’t count…).
Jackson has the magic system down – they’re called conjurers although everyone thinks of them as witches (and it’s a hanging offense if you’re caught using any magic) and they use blood or grass or flowers – or another creature’s life – to power their spells (seems to be mostly blood; Ethan is cutting himself like every chapter in this book).
Jackson also has the history down – 1765 Boston felt appropriately alive. This time period and this place is actually very rich for novelists – it’s got tension and intrigue and the gunpowder smell of revolution in the air. My one quibble is with Mistress Thieftaker Sephira Pryce’s insistence on wearing modified men’s clothing. This might work if it wasn’t said so often that she moved in high society circles and socialized with the upper crust; people used to think women in pants was downright unnatural and no way would she be able to get away with it and still be accepted by Society. It's not like she actually does anything physical anyways! Her goons do all the beating. She could wear a dress without being slowed down or hampered.
What Jackson does not have down is the mystery.
Look, Ethan's a solid protagonist. He's got the tragic backstory (happy young sailor gets involved in a mutiny, he might have used magic - the details are left vague - he ends up in a Caribbean labor camp and then finally returns [did he escape? was his time up? I don’t remember…] to Boston only to find out that his lady love has married another). He's a nice mix of weary and dogged. BUT he is also one dumb puppy.
I don’t think Ethan solves a single thing for himself without someone having to EXPLAIN IT TO HIM (usually it was the villain. Thanks villain!). Even ideas that were so obvious I was surprised when Ethan finally considers them ¾ of the book later. Like, this girl ends up dead on the street with no markings on her, her death obviously (to Ethan) caused by a conjurer. Great. She happens to be the daughter of a rich merchant and her brooch was stolen. Ethan has already discounted all the typical reasons someone would be killed – it’s not robbery (you don’t use a death spell to steal a brooch), it’s not a jealous fiancé, it’s not her parents, it doesn’t seem to be any business rival of the father’s. In fact, it doesn’t seem to really be about her at all. AND Ethan knows that the conjurer used her death to power some kind of enormous spell. AND he knows that this kind of huge spell can be used to control other people. AND he knows she was killed right near a huge revolutionary mob that destroyed the houses of three prominent Boston citizens. I WONDER WHY SHE WAS KILLED. Ethan takes forever to get to the first place I thought of and then he is all wow, what a twist! No, Ethan. I know you have way less experience with detective shows than me – and you’re not a detective at all, you’re a thieftaker and this is your first time investigating a murder – but good God man, please at least be clever.
Another example of this didn’t really make any difference to the case, but I was just blown away by how he couldn’t figure this out. He knows this uber-powerful conjurer has killed several times in the past to fuel his spells. He knows one of these times was on the day of a double hanging. He knows that there were no reported dead-with-no-causes corpses lying around that day. He knows that one of the prisoners who hung was oddly limp and lifeless during the hanging. PLEASE GUESS WHO THE CONJURER USED TO FUEL HIS SPELL I BET YOU WILL FIGURE IT OUT BEFORE ETHAN.
The villain’s biggest mistake (besides laying out his entire evil plot to Ethan for no reason before Ethan was to die, WTF DID YOU GO TO THE JAMES BOND SCHOOL OF VILLAINRY?) was actually bothering to threaten Ethan at all. If he had just left Ethan well enough alone from the beginning, no way would the guy be able to stumble his way to the resolution. In fact, the only reason that he knew the identity of the murderous conjurer was because he was kind enough to kidnap Ethan and show him his face. I am pretty sure Ethan had no goddamn clue who the murderer was up until that moment (in fact, when he was kidnapped he was spying on other people he considered suspicious). OR the murderer could’ve just killed Ethan at any old time. Why continue to threaten him to drop the investigation? You kill Ethan and the case would be dropped - Ethan is the reason that the investigation kept going and he doesn’t have powerful friends to avenge him. OR you use some of your evil controlling magic to magically convince him to drop the case. Or set up an appropriate patsy to take the fall instead of being all, “Oh, Ethan, blame this guy who you know his innocent, kay?”
And Sephira Price was no better. It just got annoying how often she came around to beat up Ethan. I wanted to just roll my eyes and go, again? Really? Because it was so effective last time? Anytime she didn’t get her way, she’d either have Ethan beaten down or threaten a beatdown. Stay classy, Price. A real crimeboss has more style. Or at least more creativity. Kill the guy or don’t, Sephira. Make up your goddamn mind already. It also makes absolutely no sense that Sephira referred the case to Ethan in the first place. If you wanted to make sure this case didn’t get investigated too deeply, why not just do it yourself – get the brooch, give it back, let the murderer get away, keep it quiet. DO NOT give the case to a guy who has no problem flouting the rules and who always sees things through to the bitter end. And then you will save yourself the trouble of beating the guy up every 15 minutes thinking that it will convince him to stop investigating (HINT: IT WON’T).
The middle of the book got bogged down in repetition. Sephira Price has Ethan beaten! The old reverend tells Ethan to repent from witchcraft and seek God’s forgiveness! The conjurer uses his creepy ghost girl image to threaten Ethan! Ethan continues to be handed every clue and theory! BREAK FOR STEW THEN REPEAT.
BUT I’m still probably going to read the sequel. The history is good, I love the concept, and Jackson could get better on his mysteries (here's to hopin').
P.S. I hate when they hide the ball on who the author really is. There is a thing called the internet. You might have heard it. So when you say that D.B. Jackson is the pen name of a fantasy author, I can figure out that he is David B. Coe. I have more investigative skills than Ethan, guys. Stop treating me like an idiot. ...more