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Friday, January 27, 2023

No Heart for a Thief by James Lloyd Dulin (Reviewed by Lena)


Buy No Heart for a Thief here

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: 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.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 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.

FORMAT/INFO: No Heart For a Thief was published on January 24th, 2023 by G&D Publishing and has a print length of 460 pages. It is the author's debut epic dark fantasy and the first book in the Malitu trilogy.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: At the beginning of the story we find Kaylo, a hermit living in the forest, saving Tayen's life from a horrible fate. She's been running for her life since finding her family murdered at their home. After Kaylo saves her, he offers her a place to stay. She's reluctant but she's lost her entire family and soldiers are after her (and her magic).

In this world there are people who can listen to something called The Song, and through its rhythm they can do many things according to who of the Seven Spirits, they have a connection with. These people are called Dancers. Not all people have a connection, those who do not are called Spirit Bound. 

Kaylo can connect with two spirits, not one, like most dancers. One of the spirits is the Seed, which gives him the ability to manipulate everything that grows in the earth. The other spirit is the Thief, which is the one that made him pretty famous as Ennea's Thief, The Hero of Anilace. His belief in the spirits has become very bitter and grudging due to the many tragedies the spirits did nothing to prevent.

"'Listen, little shade, at the end of the day, the spirits will do what they're going to do. No prayer is going to change that. And right now, they seem content with letting us all kill each other over land and their so-called gifts.'"

Tayen can manipulate the shadows due to her connection with the spirit called Shadow. She's not very good at it but she's still a child, still learning. The people who Kaylo saves her from are soldiers of the Empire that were going to stripped her of her connection with the Shadow using a very special crystal. They believe their God showed them where to find the crystals to subdued the dancers (those who can listen to the Song), after they landed on the shores. Now the soldiers just steal the dancer's connection with the spirits using the crystals and the person striped of the connection, they send to the mines, to extract the same crystals used on them.

There are so many themes interwoven in the story, which in my humble opinion, I think are really well done. Discrimination, occupation, war, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and survivor's guilt are a few of these.

Even though I was having a really hard time stopping myself from screaming at what the children did, Tayen in the present timeline and Kaylo in the past, I thoroughly enjoyed both of their characters. Tayen is so focused on revenge that I had problems connecting with her at times, no matter how justified her bloodthirstiness may be. She was almost blinded by it. Kaylo, in the present is very hard to reach but not hard to understand. I found him fascinating. He has spent so much time isolated from the world, and having to face it in the form of this child, who in so many ways is kin, one that shakes his world completely. He just wants to live in peace but the war isn't done with him quite yet. Both of them and the secondary characters are very realistic and sometimes I had a hard time not to empathize with everyone, even with the antagonists. You can see all sides of the conflict and at least in my case, can't help but grieve for it.

The relationship between Kaylo and Tayen starts to evolve towards a found family. Kaylo feels like a father to her, even if she doesn't want to admit it, and his hideout from the world, like a home. But as she's set on revenge and wants to leave, he offers to train her and while doing that, he shares part of his life story. He, in sharing his story is trying to convey and teach her so many things but the one that matters most is "Tayen don't leave. We can live in this quiet place. There's no need for revenge. The only thing revenge can bring is more pain and death". 
Their master- disciple relationship is wonderful. How he trains her, and cares for her is so heartwarming. He really cares for her, and because of that he's forced to decisions that cost them both.

The writing was fantastic. Fast paced with pauses of relative calm in between action. Those pauses served to connect, understand, learn more about the characters, the magic system, the lore/religion/culture side of things, etc. all of which is so interesting and compelling that you just want to know more and more. I loved how action packed it was but especially the pace. I think the pace was just perfect for this type of story. 

The descriptions of the land, the dialogue, the interactions between characters. The atmosphere was amazing. I loved when a particular scene, you don't need much to feel you're there. You dread during so many apparently inconsequential scenes. 

The magic system and lore were awesome. Tayen's ability to manipulate shadows is very interesting but not as much as Kaylo's ability to use the Shadow himself, as he's more experienced. I found fascinating how Kaylo described the Song, and how he felt the plants and seeds in the soil and the life in them. I loved how the Seven Spirits were described, with their own peculiarities and providing abilities and at times, they seemed very human-like. 

The different cultures were really interesting and very rich and especially well developed during the whole story.

I really liked how the Empire, even though I thought of it many times as bunch of religious fanatics, truly believed they were doing the right thing through horrible actions. It's always a great to feel that the antagonist is not evil just because.

The characters beliefs were put to the test more than once because morality, religion and necessity didn't always coincide.

After they're found out, they find no save heaven. The Empire has destroyed their way of living, their families, their friends, their homes until there's no other option but running.

"No heart for a thief, no save heaven, only a grave will do."

I absolutely loved this book. And I really wish it was longer because I really wanted to continue this amazing story. I really appreciated the author taking the time to write a very thoughtful and detailed Author's Note.   

CONCLUSION:  No Heart for a Thief is a very strong debut from the author, an absolutely amazing action packed story with fascinating and very complex characters. This wonderful dual timeline story, is one of loss, sacrifice, survival and magic that just makes you question these Spirits and Gods, more with each passing chapter. The pace is absolutely terrific and it will just leave you wanting for more until and beyond the very end. Cannot wait for the next book in the trilogy.



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