Thief of Lives

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Barb & J.C. Hendee

Published: 2004

Reviewed: 2006-07-27

Publisher: Roc

This book was a disappointment to me, if only because its predecessor
caused me to expect much more from it. The previous book by the
Hendee team, "Dhampir," was a breath of fresh air into the world of
vampire novels. Set in a fantasy world with Russian overtones, it
followed Magiere and Leesil, a pair of scam artists who pretend to
hunt vampires, taking money from superstitious peasants and providing
a fake battle as placebo cure for whatever ails their village. Tired
of the game, they try to retire, only to land in a town occupied by
actual vampires who have heard of their reputation.

"Dhampir" was an excellent story that broke many of the standard
conventions, as well as satisfying my favorite demand---a good
sense of scale. "Thief of Lives" picks up where it left off,
a few months later, when the rulers of a large city present an
offer they can't refuse and pull them inevitably back into battle
with vampires.

OK, so far so good. And for the most part, the story delivers
exactly on its promise. Where the first book was all about
small town life and the struggle to go from fakes to reality,
"Thief of Lives" is full of class struggle, culture clash, and
the characters wrestling with the consequences of their changed
lives. It's good stuff, it's got lots of believable accidents
and near misses, confusion and coincidence, and lots of fun
filling-in of backstory.

Only thing, the Hendees can't leave well enough alone. There's an
epic plot hiding in the horse droppings on the street, and it won't
spoil a thing to tell you that everybody is being manipulated by
Bigger and Darker Powers. I mean, the Hendees come straight out tell
us in a grevious abuse of Third Person Omniscient perspective.

Recalling a few odd snippets in the first book, no doubt this is where
they intended to go. I've seen the third on the shelves and they
certainly seem to take it there---like the main characters end up on a
full-out honest-to-god Quest. But I'm saddened, because they had such
a richly potential universe and they had to go spoiling it with
Ancient Secrets and Dark Powers.

Worse yet, the twist at the end---serving the epic plot--leaves the
most interesting moral quandaries in the book unable to be addressed.
Poof. They vanish when the revelation arrives. And I grumble at
the authors who think they're so bleeding clever.

But, you know, it's not my book, and they can do it if they want to.
I enjoyed it a great deal, but I don't like the direction the
series is heading, and I probably won't read the third book.