No Heart for a Thief (Malitu #1), by James L. Dulin - Review by Jamedi
We are the stories we tell ourselves...even the lies.
The Thief, a great spirit, and her descendants have abused their ability to steal magic for centuries. When Kaylo starts to hear the song of other people’s magic, he must learn to hide from his people as well as the invaders. A gift or a curse, Kaylo may be able to save his people from the Gousht Empire that claimed their land with this stolen magic.
Eighteen years later, Kaylo still prays to the spirits, but not out of loyalty or love. He knows better than to rely on those selfish bastards for anything. While hiding in the forest from his foolish acts of rebellion, he encounters a girl, Tayen, being pursued by two soldiers of the empire. Against his better judgment, he risks facing the consequences of his past to intervene.
When Tayen attempts to run off seeking vengeance for her family, he offers to train her to wield her magic and a blade. If he can’t convince her to relinquish her need for vengeance and stave off the demons of his past, he’s going to get them both killed.
My Review (4.25 out of 5 )
No Heart for a Thief is a dark epic fantasy novel, the first in the Malitu trilogy, and the debut from James L. Dulin. It touches on some themes that I personally enjoy seeing being used in fantasy, such as colonialism and rebellion; and it has a really particular style of narration that also caught my interest.
This is a story about a man who has tried to maintain himself out of the fight against the occupation, Kaylo, who has chosen to keep a reclusive lifestyle in hopes of forgetting his violent past. This relative peace gets broken as he is forced to save a girl, Tayen, from the soldiers that killed her family, unchaining the consequences of that act. Soon, Kaylo becomes a sort of master and mentor for Tayen in hopes to keep her far from her vengeance wishes, trying to protect her; this girl recognizes Kaylo as the legendary Ennea's Thief, the Hero of Anilance, making Kaylo acknowledge that he can't run from his past forever.
What starts with this is a greatly crafted dual-POV story, switching between Kaylo's past and Tayen's present, weaving it to create a character-driven plot around the occupation of Ennea by the Ghoulsh, and how our main characters have lived it. Because it is important to remark, that despite Ennea being a land under occupation and in war, this theme is going to be treated in a much more intimate way, taking the focus on how those characters have lived it and how it has influenced their lives. It becomes a really dark story even from the start, with death and violence in it, but treated with respect and focuses mostly on how it has affected our characters.
Another theme that gets touched, despite it being in a more light way, is how history gets modified depending on who is the one telling it, usually getting oriented to the side of the winners. We can see how Ennea's beliefs have been modified, firstly after the internal wars between tribes, and secondly by the Ghoulsh invasors; creating an internal struggle in a spiritual sense for Kaylo.
Worldbuilding is certainly another of the aspects that you can see has got a great amount of work behind it. Ennea is an interesting land, which has a long history before the period we are being spectators, with their own beliefs and customs; there are several small examples that are great illustrating it.
Magic is also an important part of this world, the Song is a sort of hard magic system, but with diffuse rules. It is interesting to see how it has also evolved with time, and how due to the circumstances, these diffuse rules have appeared, showing more intricacy as a result of the lack of clear knowledge about it. The way it is cast and how it is executed by connecting nature spirits is another of the aspects that made it really spectacular to read it being practiced.
Pacing is solid during the whole novel, but it suffers a little bit at the start of the story, especially until we are aware of the particular style of this narration; in that sense, using a dual POV is both, a strength and a weakness. Tayen's storyline is slightly slower, while Kaylo's is highly emotional, being my particular favourite.
In summary, No Heart for a Thief is an excellent debut, a dark fantasy story with a great scope, but centered around characters. If you are looking for a different way to reflect colonialism and rebellion, or if you want a character-driven fantasy story, I suspect this book is perfect for you.
James L. Dulin
James is a nerd with a head full of stories and limited time to put them on the page.
He grew up in Grand Rapids, MI, spending an excessive amount of time at a local community theater where he developed his affinity for storytelling. This affinity grew into a deep admiration for language and spoken word poetry while studying mathematics and education at the University of Michigan. A few hundred mediocre poems and lackluster performances later, he decided his dream of writing a novel might not be as ridiculous as he once thought. He firmly believes that art—even silly books about magic, or maybe especially silly books about magic—has the ability to tell stories that sink beneath the surface.