BOOK REVIEW: Giant Thief

Easie Damasco is an audacious rogue who’ll steal anything rather than earn an honest days crust.  With an invading army poised to strike and a rough noose around his neck, he may not have chosen the best day to aggravate the fearsome warlord Moaradrid.

I mean, stealing his money is one thing, but what Damasco pilfers will see him chased from one end of the country to another.  If he had any sense he’d give up (but then if he had any sense he wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.)  He may not be wise but he might just get rich.  One thing’s for sure though, it won’t be easy.

Angry Robot is a vibrant publishing house that seems to specialise in creating fresh blends of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction.  With David Tallerman they have discovered a new author with energy and good, broad humour.  Whilst I would not describe the book as an out-and-out comedy it does have the sense of being what I think of as a ‘romp’ in the vein of Pratchett’s Going Postal or Wooding’s Retribution Falls.

The first chapter had me grinning from ear to ear, I have to say.  It was a real pleasure to read and, whilst not attaining the dazzling heights of Lynch’s Locke Lamorra, David Tallerman has created a charming scoundrel in Easie Damasco; one whose company I would definitely seek out again.  Damasco makes for an enjoyable companion, narrating his adventure like a proper raconteur.  You can almost picture him holding forth in a ratty tavern with a rapt little audience.  He is filled with boundless self-confidence, lies to the world about everything and, faced with a difficult choice will always take the money and run.  If that puts him in greater difficulty later… well that’s later.

The setting is a Mexican-style country full of rocky canyons, vast plains and scattered small-town settlements.  Unfortunately it is not developed and explored sufficiently in this first Tale to stand as a major fantasy world, but it does lend the whole book a slightly off-beat flavour strong enough to defy pigeon-holing.  Plot-wise I was less than satisfied.  Once Damasco makes off with Moaradrid’s treasures (including a Giant, by the name of Saltlick – Giant Thief – Geddit?) the entire book seems to be one long chase scene.  There are rest points, secondary characters and a degree of background political manouverings, but by and large the Tale is told on the hoof with one eye on the pursuers and the other looking out for an escape route.  I fully expected Saltlick to become some kind of partner in crime or a moral figure to help Easie find redemption, but I was wrong.  He’s a loveable lunk, but for all the character development the Giant gets he may as well be a really heavy backpack that Easie has to lug around – albeit one that can carry Damasco when he gets a bit footsore.

Part boast, part confession, we’re privy to most of what is going on in Damasco’s devious little brain.  It works to engage us with this objectively despicable toerag but it also quite satisfyingly skews the story for the reader.  There are some pretty major plot points that Easie totally fails to notice, let alone comprehend until the consequences knock him on his arse (or save it unexpectedly).  Coincidence can be overused but Tellerman manages to reveal enough by way of subplot and hidden agendas to prevent it all from becoming wildly unbelievable.

Overall I found this to be an enjoyable read, though the constant chase left me flagging a little in the second act.  It’s a dangerous gambit for any book to hang on so slender a plot, but particularly so for a first novel.  Whilst the action rollicked along at a good old pace I found myself occasionally craving a bit of space to breathe and room to look around.  I wanted more of a sense of what it’s like to be in this world.  I really wanted to know more about Giant culture – the brief glimpse we get is fascinatingly sketched – and see more of the Castoval and its peoples, but the story was so tightly focussed that it brooked no tourism.

Told in a different way the story could have open up the world a lot more to us, but I suspect it would have lost what is tellerman’s critical achievement – that of a properly grounds-eye view of a fantasy world.  Damasco is naturally aware that there are great events unfolding around him but all he cares about is himself.  The rest can go hang unless there’s an angle he can play to get rich.  The author walks a fine line with his anti-hero.  There is no doubt that Easie deserves every piece of bad luck that falls his way but it is utterly glorious each time he manages to turn things around.

Come the end of this first story Easie is revitalised and really looking to up his game.  With the promise of more Tales to come, here’s hoping he can find a story to match his ambitions.

Rating: 3.5/5
GS Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

You can hear me blathering about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
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