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Thief of Lives

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Why are certain subjects so difficult to talk about?
What is justice?
Why do writers think that other people’s lives are fair game?
And what do we really know about the first chemist?

A story about history, women, science (and also the demonic); a crime story, based upon a true crime; a realist satire of the supposedly sex-savvy; and a story exploring lies, and the space between the real and the unreal. Welcome to the worlds of Lucy Sussex, and to her many varied modes.

120 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published July 31, 2011

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Lucy Sussex

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Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews
Profile Image for Narrelle.
Author 58 books112 followers
August 18, 2011
Lucy Sussex's breadth of talent and knowledge are on display in the third of the 12 Planets anthology series. In four short stories you see historical fantasy in ancient Babylon about the world's first chemist, snappy modern crime in Melbourne, a delightfully sensual tale of female sexuality and an urban fantasy playing cheekily with ideas if authorship and created worlds.

Each story is distinct, a gem, and you have to marvel at the intelligence and imagination behind four such different stories.
Profile Image for Ju Transcendancing.
461 reviews18 followers
March 27, 2016
An excerpt from my full review at The Conversationalist.

Another really solid addition to the Twelve Planets collection by Twelfth Planet Press. This book wasn’t my favourite, but Sussex has been on my ‘to read’ list in my head for quite a while so I’m pleased to finally read some of her work. Overall I enjoyed this collection, but I didn’t fall into it the way I did with both Nightsiders and Love and Romanpunk. I do think this is a great introduction to Sussex’s work and her talent across different genres and styles of writing. My stand out favourite story from this collection was Alchemy, although I'd really love to see Thief of Lives as a full length novel - there's so much more there than fits a short story.

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
Author 16 books123 followers
March 19, 2016
Thief of Lives is the third collection in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series, each one collecting short fiction from a female Australian writer. Unlike the previous two volumes in the series, which collected interlinked short stories and novellas, Thief of Lives includes four unrelated works, which also vary in terms of genre.

The collection opens with Alchemy, set in ancient Babylon. This story tells of Tapputi, a perfumer who has attracted the interest of a spirit, Azuzel. Azuzel is able to see through time, and drawn by Tapputi’s intelligence and skill, he wishes to have her enter into an agreement with him in order to have her fulfil-as he sees it-what her true potential is. Tapputi has other ideas, and has no need for the spirit’s bargain as she sets out to become who may have been the first real chemist (she is known historically to have used the world’s first known still to make her perfumes), as well as a Royal Overseer. The weaving of history with fantasy in this story is sublime, and Tapputi herself is a fascinating character. This is my favourite story of the collection, and one that I’d love to see expanded into a larger work.

Fountain of Justice is a modern crime story set in Melbourne, which follows a solicitor, Meg, who works with the Children’s Court. Though this story was well written, the content didn’t grab me nearly as much as Alchemy; this says nothing at all about the quality of the story, which is high, but reveals more about my own personal reading preferences.

The Subject of O is, as one can probably infer just from the title alone, a story about women and female sexuality. On the surface, it is a story about Petra, a university student who is beginning to explore her own sexuality. In the process she learns a lot about how many young people-particularly the men she knows- really are, as compared to how they present their sexual exploits to the world. This story is one that I almost would like to have printed out and handed to university students, if only to learn about how so many people lie about their sexual exploits.

The final story in the collection is Thief of Lives, which also give the title to the collection as a whole. This is a dense, complex story which highlights what a fantastic (and perhaps somewhat overlooked) talent Sussex is – and caps off a collection that shows how versatile her work also is. There’s something almost dreamlike about this narrative as it weaves and interweaves. It says a lot about literature and the kind of people who are drawn to its consumption and creation. It’s a haunting story, and I would love to see more of this world.

Overall, this collection didn’t grab me personally quite as much as the previous two (Sue Isle’s Nightsiders and Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Love and Romanpunk), which speaks to my own love for stories with a speculative fiction bent. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this collection to anyone – perhaps even as a gateway to speculative fiction to a reader who is steeped mostly in non-speculative literature. It is a brilliant example of Sussex’s talent, and the collection as a whole continues the extremely high quality of the Twelve Planets series.
Profile Image for toria (vikz writes).
239 reviews7 followers
April 9, 2012
why am I reading this book?

This is another book for the Australian Women's Writers Challenge. This brilliant challenge maybe found at www.goodreads.com/group/show/59176, https://www.facebook.com/AustralianWo..., and http://www.australianwomenwriters.com.... It's not too late to get involved. Get reading.

about this book

This is part of a series of novella size books which is currently being by published Twelfth Planet Press (http://www.twelfthplanetpress.com/). These books are short story collections. This book is a series of fairly unrelated stories;

Fountain of Justice
The Story of O
Thief of Lives

What I thought

This book is an interesting introduction to the work of an interesting writer. I will definitely read more from this author.

Profile Image for Barbara.
Author 14 books9 followers
May 8, 2012
A selection of four short stories: two fantasies, a crime story, and a story of sexual discovery. Lucy Sussex is a capable writer and I have been enjoying this Twelfth Planet Press series, but this collection just fell a little flat for me.

The first story, a demon story set in ancient Babylon, was interesting enough. The demon (or angel) is a powerful, but not all-powerful, ambiguous character, and the target of its attentions is a clever and entrepeneurial woman. This was, for me, the strongest of the four.

The second story, a modern day crime story, didn't provide enough of a character for me to engage with the plot.

The third, the story of sexual awakening, did nothing for me, perhaps because it was so far from my own experience so it couldn't count on nostalgia to draw me in.

The fourth was a twist on a vampire story. It had potential, I though, but needed some tightening up.
Profile Image for Katharine (Ventureadlaxre).
1,522 reviews44 followers
March 12, 2016
Thief of Lives is the third book in the Twelve Planets series, released by Twelfth Planet Press, which showcase the talent of female Australian authors. There is now to be a thirteenth in the series, but that's a review for another time. The brief given to authors was to write 4 short stories of up to 40,000 words in total. The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

This collection contains four unconnected stories, one historical fantasy, one crime, one of the relationship between woman and man, and one urban fantasy. With a wry and elegant sense of humour, Sussex tells us stories that we're unlikely to read elsewhere. Being Twelfth Planet Press these are excellent for feminist fiction, and there's much chatter about 'The Story of O' especially, as many don't know what to make of it. More of that below.


In Babylon, three women are walking home late one night after a hard day of gathering sweet rushes for their work, when one catches the attention of a demon; Azubel. He follows her through the course of her work, seeing what others don't in her, wanting to protect her and retaliate from those who harm her. It takes time, letting her become used to his presence, but eventually he tells her that one day, the perfumes she makes will be wanted by the king himself.

This was my favourite of the four. Historical fantasy, this shows the very first inklings of the progression of what would become chemisty and the intelligence behind it, as well as the always satisfying tale of a woman who, instead of doing her 'duty' of marrying whichever man (or men) her family insist, manages to use her intelligence and ability to secure a satisfying life. And that there's still more to have even once you're old, and nearly gone.

Fountain of Justice

Meg, a solicitor, is kept busy by the easy-going scum of the earth, those being for done for drugs or minor traffic infringement (being drunk and trying to sleep in the middle of the road type of thing), which is made interesting by the fact a close friend has a hopeless 15 year old son who keeps getting himself in trouble. When the friend is in hospital recovering from a domestic violence episode it means Meg now has a 15yo to wrangle, if not for public peace then at least for her friend.

This was of interest to me, basically because some close friends are solicitors who have to deal with this, and working in HR it's sometimes a requirement to go to court to note down what a (soon to be) ex-employee has been brought in for. I was a little disappointed with the ending though - I was hoping for something a little more finalised.

The Story of O

The shortest piece of them all at only 11ish pages, we have here some college guys snickering about what they think the female side of an orgasim is like - all thanks to how good they are in the sack, of course. Petra is pissed for a whole variety of reasons, and eloquently, explains it best throughout the piece.

This is the one that has confused many people somehow. Other reviews say it's possibly for a difference audience, it's tedious, etc BUT... friend Alex says it best:

On one level it is quite a funny story about students and their conversations, and plays into the common theme that university students are all rather busy with sex and drugs. But the reality is that underneath is a genuine questioning of why discussion of women's sexuality and experience of sex is more often than not hidden, or spoken of only hazily, or left to blokes leering and imagining them as God's gift to womankind. It's frank and honest, refreshingly spiked with wry humour. But don't read it on public transport if you are the blushing type.

Thief of Lives

Set in Bristol, this piece captures the Britishness quite perfectly. We have Ally, research assistant to an author, who is there for work and out at night on arrival thanks to jetlag, proud of her ability to blend in anywhere and not fear the dangers of midnight out on the streets as a single woman.

The book scene of England is a strange mix. You have the Oxbridge side and you have those who aren't, and they all come with their range of opinions and expectations. When Ally attends a book night dressed as what she calls a Vampire ambassador, she causes a stir - certainly getting everyone's attention.

From here it says a lot about authors and the work they do, the liberties they can take at times, and how this is reflected both in characters of other worldly means and the city of Bristol itself. It ends with an uplifted mood, and it's then you realise you demolished this collection of shorts much faster than you planned for!

This collection has the following mentions when it comes to awards: Shortlisted for the 2012 Chronos Awards
Profile Image for Alexandra.
784 reviews98 followers
October 30, 2011

This is the delightfully-packaged third book in the Twelve Planets series, from Twelfth Planet Press. I should mention that I am friends with the editor/publisher, Alisa Krasnostein, and a passing acquaintance of the author, Lucy Sussex. But don't worry; I would have no trouble saying I didn't like it much, if that were the case...

The first story is, for me, the blazing outstanding story of the four. Called "Alchemy," it is set in Babylon, a city as evocative, perhaps, as it is foreign. We are presented with a story told from two perspectives. The first is that of Tapputi, a perfumer from a long line of such. She is a mother, a widow, and a skilled artisan. She has also attracted the attention of Azubel, a spirit whose point of view we also read. Azubel has knowledge of the past and the possible paths of the future, with a particular passion for and understanding of what we would call chemistry. The stories of these two, over a long span of time (by human standards) has many strands, weaving in examinations of knowledge and the dangers thereof; juggling career and family; tradition and innovation and the pitfalls of each; and that essential conundrum, discerning good from evil when the world is grey, not black and white. Tapputi is finely, delicately drawn, the balance of concerns inherent being in being a widowed mother and artisan nicely indicated. She is both practical and romantic and, perhaps most wondrously, is actually based on a woman known to historians because her name and trade are recorded in cuneiform from the second millennium BC. This is a story that mixes fantasy and history in a glorious blend, and is one of my favourite stories for the year.

The second story in the collection is Krasnostein showing her readers that the Twelve Planets series is not going to follow the path set by the first two sets (Nightsiders and Love and Romanpunk), because it neither follows "Alchemy" (sigh) nor falls into SF/fantasy. "The Fountain of Justice" was first published for the Ned Kelly Awards, given in Australia to crime authors, and is indeed a story of crime and policing set in Melbourne, Sussex's home city. It wasn't really my sort of thing - crime never really has been. We get the story predominantly from the point of view of Meg, a solicitor who works mainly for the Children's Court, and with the juveniles accused there. It's a convoluted story questioning issues of justice and truth, asking I think whether our legal system delivers justice and even whether it can/should. It is clever, but it didn't ultimately work for me.

Thirdly, "The Subject of O" is again completely different, and perhaps on the face of it far simpler than the preceding two - although it would be a mistake to actually believe that. Petra, a probably twenty-something university student, is the focus, as a stupid comment from an acquaintance sends her memory over the past few weeks and months in which she has been thinking about, and learning about, women and orgasms. On one level it is quite a funny story about students and their conversations, and plays into the common theme that university students are all rather busy with sex and drugs. But the reality is that underneath is a genuine questioning of why discussion of women's sexuality and experience of sex is more often than not hidden, or spoken of only hazily, or left to blokes leering and imagining them as God's gift to womankind. It's frank and honest, refreshingly spiked with wry humour. But don't read it on public transport if you are the blushing type.

Finally, the collection is rounded out by the eponymous story, "Thief of Lives," which itself contains a book of the same name (confused yet?). This is the most complicated story of the set, although fortunately almost everything is clarified by the end, making hindsight a wonderful thing. It's set in Bristol, and told from the first person by someone who is not what they at first appear to be, and whose intentions in Bristol are far from straightforward. It's impossible for me to give a good idea of the narrative, really, without spoiling it. Let me say that it toys with ideas like a cat with string: why (as the blurb puts it) do writers think that other people's lives are fair game? How do writers get their ideas? Can writers and their writing have a concrete impact on those around them, especially when drawing on them for inspiration? It's a little bit labyrinthine, which is echoed somewhat in the maze-like qualities of Bristol itself for our protagonist. It's very, very clever, and the main character herself is a little bit hypnotic.

Also, isn't it a totally lovely cover?
Profile Image for S.B. Wright.
Author 1 book49 followers
January 26, 2012
Thief of Lives is the third collection in the Twelve Planets Series and continues Twelfth Planet Press’ run of quality product.

In contrast to Sue Isle’s mosaic in Nightsiders, Lucy Sussex offers the reader 4 widely divergent stories.

The Stories

Alchemy – Set in ancient Babylon, a god or demon attempts to manipulate a perfumer.

The Fountain of Justice – A purely crime fiction piece about the legal system and whether or not it delivers.

The Subject of O – College students, the female orgasm, and who creates the narrative of female pleasure.

The Thief of Lives – A researcher sent to Bristol at the behest of a reclusive author. A tale about writers and their vampiric tendencies.

A mixed bag

This collection was a bit of a mixed bag for me, which is not to say that it wasn’t all good. I enjoyed Alchemy and Thief of Lives the most - it’s no surprise then, that these are speculative fiction shorts in the collection.

I appreciated The Fountain of Justice but I think I was too familiar with the message or tone of the piece for it to spark more than an agreeable nod of the head. The Subject of O made me smile and generated a sniff of nostalgia for bygone university days.


Alchemy tapped into my love of Ancient History and I found this story to share some echoes of the Abrahamic myth of the temptation in the Garden of Eden. Only this is temptation is not quite so cut and dried as the biblical story.

Tapputi a widow and mother is approached a number of times over the course of her life by the spirit or demon Azubel, who offers to marry her. Azubel’s his bride price is knowledge of the future and specifically knowledge of what would later become chemistry, knowledge that would benefit her and her station. To Tapputi’s credit she is confident and intelligent enough not to be swayed.

Azubel while playing the role of the tempter is not evil, selfish perhaps, driven by his own passions but I get the sense that he does really care for her or what she coud do with the knowledge.

A wonderful story with feet in both the fantastical and historic. Far more believable than a story of an apple and a snake.

Thief of Lives is perhaps one of the most tightly woven short stories I have read all year. It’s complex and well constructed, so much so that I feel the need to go back and read it again to ensure I haven’t missed anything.

This story seems on the surface to be quite a well executed and original paranormal fantasy. But I can’t help but think Sussex is also making a comment on the nature of writing and on writers themselves. I shall say no more.


A good introduction to the skill which Lucy Sussex can bring to bear in almost any genre. A little something for everyone.

A relevant note

Readers participating in the Australian Women Writers challenge will be heartened to know that Lucy rediscovered and republished the lost works of nineteenth-century Australian crime writers Mary Fortune and Ellen Davitt.
Profile Image for Mark Webb.
Author 2 books4 followers
November 28, 2011
Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex is one of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press (made up of 12 boutique collections of stories by Australian writers). It is made up of four shorter stories, including:

The Fountain of Justice
The Subject of O
Thief of Lives

Unlike in the other two books in the Twelve Planets series so far, these four stories are not related to each other. Indeed, two of the stories (The Fountain of Justice and The Subject of O) don't have any fantastical elements that I could see at all. The writing is excellent - I have heard/read very positive reviews of Ms Sussex's work elsewhere and I can see from the quality of this work that those reviews are well deserved.

My favourite story of the group was The Thief of Lives. It was one of those stories where you don't really know what is going on at the start (well at least I didn't) and you become more oriented as things unfold. I really enjoyed the concept, and although I don't have enough experience with writing and the publishing scene to know for sure, I suspect there might be some references that would amuse insiders.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my other favourite of the bunch was the other story with fantastical elements Alchemy. Set in ancient Babylon, it tells the story of a woman on a path to become a master perfumer and a demon with a fascination with the sciences who sees in her the opportunity to radically advance chemistry. The ancient world was beautifully rendered in this story and I found the description of the demon's traversal of timelines intriguing.

The Fountain of Justice is a crime story with a sort of Underbelly (Australian crime drama for any overseas readers) feel to it. Again beautifully written but not as much my cup of tea.

I'm not really sure how to describe The Subject of O - it was an interesting read, but nothing speculative about it and I suspect meant for a different audience than me. Still, Ms Sussex's writing is excellent and I liked the story without being totally captivated by it.

All in all, another excellent addition to the Twelve Planets series.
Profile Image for Tsana Dolichva.
Author 4 books64 followers
January 2, 2013
Thief of Lives, by Lucy Sussex is part of Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets collection.

Thief of Lives is a collection of four short stories without common setting. I have to admit, this collection was closer to literary realism than I usually read. Thematically, women are central to all the stories in a variety of different ways. Karen Joy Fowler eloquently explains what Sussex writes about in the introduction:

Fantasy, history, crime. The relationship of women to men. The relationship of women to women. The relationship of the writer to her subject.


The first story in this collection is set in ancient Babylon. It’s about the best perfumier in the city, one of the first chemists in the world. She is watched, throughout her life by an immortal who has singled her out the smartest person in Babylon and is fascinated by her mind.

The Fountain of Justice

This story can be most accurately described as crime. It’s set around underworld shootings in an Australian city (I would guess Melbourne, but I don’t think it ever said), and told from the point of view of a legal aid.

The Subject of O

This story is about the main character’s understanding of her sexual experiences, when she starts to see them in a new light.

Thief of Lives

The titular story was my favourite of the bunch. The main character is PA to a successful urban fantasy novelist who has been sent to Bristol to conduct some research. While there she discovers a psychic vampire preying on the town; a creature who sucks the life out of its victims before committing their lives to paper. It’s a fascinating exploration of writers drawing inspiration from their surroundings that interweaves reality and fantasy.

4 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
Profile Image for Christopher.
Author 10 books243 followers
September 25, 2015
Thief of Lives is a fine, though not particularly lengthy, collection of short stories. I particularly enjoyed the first and final entries, both of which play in interesting ways with existing myths. The first story is the standout of the collection, delivering a compelling narrative set in a lesser-used historical setting (I feel like most stories of this type would be located in Pharaonic Egypt). Following a demi-god-like spirit as it quests to earn the acceptance of the one human with the capacity to understand and appreciate the gifts it can bestow is interesting. That these gifts, these "dark arts," are, in fact, the core principals of chemistry is a really excellent concept. The plot is handled well, and I found the way it wraps up touching.

The final story is a spin on the vampire myth, and pretty well done at that. I particularly liked that the work starts out with indications that it's not in fact a paranormal story, and then slowly becomes one. It's handled smoothly, and I found myself wanting to know more about the main character. That's a good sign.

The other two works, both mainstream stories, are serviceable, but neither particularly grabbed me. Four stories of the quality of the opening and closing entries would definitely have snagged four stars.
782 reviews5 followers
February 8, 2015
four short pieces - two that appealed, two mediocre tending towards downright boring. However, the two that I liked pulled the collection up in ratings (or, possibly more accurately, the two mediocre pieces pulled what would have been a five star book down). 'Alchemy' is a subtle weaving of science and historical fiction - a beautiful portrait of early chemistry, as applied to perfumery. 'Thief of Lives' is a twisted, rather meta, tale of layered stories, playing with the ideas of who is the author, and who is the protagonist.

The other two - a rather pointless story about criminals and lawyers; a tedious story about university students talking about sex.
Profile Image for Pádraic.
761 reviews
July 24, 2016
The most eclectic of the Twelve Planets I've read so far. Worth the price of admission just for the final, title story, which is a deliciously meta meditation on what art steals from us, and where its boundaries lie.

The second and third stories--about justice and orgasms, respectively--are also enjoyable, impressive in their different styles and themes. I had a particularly good time with the first story too, Alchemy, as I've found I've a particular liking for tales of immortal beings. Especially of the demonic variety. Another excellent collection.
Profile Image for Liz Barr.
Author 2 books10 followers
January 5, 2014
Thief of Lives is a slightly disjointed short story collection. I liked the stories individually, but they didn’t work for me together. I was amused to realise that Lucy Sussex is also the editor of She’s Fantastical!, an anthology of feminist SF that I read in my early teens. I distinctly remember finishing that book and thinking, “Wow, this feminism business is complicated, and also really weird.” I should go back and give it another look sometime.
Profile Image for Elanor Matton-Johnson.
106 reviews25 followers
December 17, 2014
This is the first time I've read Lucy Sussex, and it's an excellent and varied collection. I think Alchemy was my favourite story, with the Babylonian setting and the sensibleness of the perfumier. The title story intrigues me, though I may need to read it again for a deeper understanding.
Profile Image for Thoraiya.
Author 62 books111 followers
August 29, 2011
Enviable powers of observation and a sly sense of humour!
Profile Image for Rivqa.
Author 11 books35 followers
June 7, 2014
Loved the humour in this, great mix of short stories and vignettes.
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