by David TallermanWith a name like Easie Damasco, a character really has no choice except to follow a life of crime. Easie is a thief who can't resist taking risks, even when the stakes are his life. When we first meet him he's about to be hung for his crimes, but for him this predicament is more or less business as usual. His last-minute reprieve in the form of conscription into an invading army turns out to be anything but when he discovers he'll be joining one of the most expendable sections. He's not expected to survive beyond the morning's battle.
Easie's not a fighter, so the first chance he gets he goes on the run. And if he happens to pick up a few choice trinkets on the way, and the odd big, smelly giant, then so much the better. However it's not easy to be stealthy with a giant in tow, and the warlord Moaradrid wants his property back. Moaradrid is an ambitious man with his eye on the throne, and he won't tolerate losing what he believes he has a right to. Easie also comes to the attention of Moaradrid's opposition, led by the mayor of an occupied town, Marina Estrada, who has the help of a crook called Mounteban. They want to stop Moaradrid from taking over the country, but unfortunately for Easie that doesn't mean they're necessarily on his side.
Moaradrid follows Easie like a man possessed, chasing him up and down the country with his soldiers. The thief races from frying pan to fire to frying pan, pausing only to filch whatever takes his fancy or maybe to stuff his face. He's a skinny rogue, but somehow he always seems to be hungry. He's a magnet for trouble, and quite a contrast to the peace-loving giant Saltlick. Easie thinks Saltlick is a stupid brute because he barely talks and he has very rigid beliefs about leadership, but there are hints that there's more to him than meets the eye. Similarly the harried Estrada seems to have a thing or two up her sleeve, whilst Mounteban's transformation from career criminal to apparent hero of the dwindling band of resistance fighters raises questions about his real motives.
Giant Thief is largely plotted around a long chase, but it's spiced up by lots of varied scenery including dens of iniquity, an exotic foreign court, and hair-raising climbs. Easie's adventures are fast-paced and enjoyable, as befits a gambler with a past that always threatens to catch up with him. In some ways he's a stock fantasy character, the incorrigible thief and rogue, but he remains fun and interesting because it's hard to predict what he'll do next. Even when he's extremely repentant about his actions and vows to change we don't quite believe he's sincere, but there's always a shred of doubt. That's why he's a compelling character.
The dialogue also sparkles with wit as the antagonistic characters lay into one another verbally as well as sometimes physically. I wouldn't call this novel a comedy, but it's certainly a feelgood fantasy with a light, cheeky tone. The giants put me in mind of the trolls in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, and the tone and setting of this book is reminiscent of Jessie Bullington's The Enterprise of Death.
Wherever Easie Damasco goes he leaves a trail of destruction and angry people eager to lynch him. Fortunately I felt just the opposite, and I hope this charming lawbreaker will be back for some sequels.
Review © Ros Jackson