Thief’s Covenant (Widdershins #1) — Ari Marmell
Once she was Adrienne Satti. An orphan of Davillon, she had somehow escaped destitution and climbed to the ranks of the city’s aristocracy in a rags-to-riches story straight from an ancient fairy tale. Until one horrid night, when a conspiracy of forces—human and other—stole it all away in a flurry of blood and murder.
Today she is Widdershins, a thief making her way through Davillon’s underbelly with a sharp blade, a sharper wit, and the mystical aid of Olgun, a foreign god with no other worshippers but Widdershins herself. It’s not a great life, certainly nothing compared to the one she once had, but it’s hers.
But now, in the midst of Davillon’s political turmoil, an array of hands are once again rising up against her, prepared to tear down all that she’s built. The City Guard wants her in prison. Members of her own Guild want her dead. And something horrid, something dark, something ancient is reaching out for her, a past that refuses to let her go. Widdershins and Olgun are going to find answers, and justice, for what happened to her—but only if those who almost destroyed her in those years gone by don’t finish the job first.
Adrienne Satti used to be no one — just a destitute orphan milling the streets of Davillon — until she was taken in by the wealthy Alexandre Delacroix. He helped transform Adrienne in an aristocrat, introduced her to his world, and in doing so, introduced her to a secret sect of people worshiping a little-known God named Olgun. But one horrible night, Adrienne loses all her new friends and her new life when the sect is attacked. Adrienne finds herself wandering the streets of Davillon again, with only Olgun as a confidant and protector. Now, she is Widdershins, the most-wanted thief in Davillon, searching for answers to how and why she lost everything.
The book opens with the horrible blood-bath that completely upends Adrienne’s life, which is instantly enthralling. Here we have this giant mystery presented and a scrappy heroine determined to find answers. It’s definitely a powerful opening — but it takes place in the past, two years ago, to be precise. And after the prologue, the story loses a bit of momentum for me. It’s hard to pinpoint why this book was so difficult for me to get through. The writing is great — cinematic and humorous. The city of Davillon is interesting and the plot worthwhile. But it feels like there are a lot of sections that drag.
I think most of my difficulties with the book have to due with the style in which the story is told rather than the story itself. The story is told from multiple points of view, which becomes jarring, confusing, and altogether unnecessary at times. We get some characters’ views only once — like Olgun’s (while I wasn’t even aware he was capable of coherent thought processes) — and others’ as often as Adrienne’s. And there are so many pivotal characters that it becomes very hard to keep track of who’s who, who works for who, who’s on which side, etc. I found myself wanting to keep a list of who everyone is and how they’re connected.
In addition, the story is told in alternating chapters of Adrienne’s past and present. This feels like an ineffective way of telling her story. The chapters focusing on her past sometimes seem ill-placed or unnecessary, even though the details are or will become necessary. I would much prefer a present prologue, then a linear section about Adrienne’s past, followed by a return to a linear section in the present. The chapter switch-off just further muddied an already complicated story.
Those elements aside, when I think about the story of Thief’s Covenant, I really like it. Davillon is a fascinating city and Adrienne is a wonderful protagonist. Her witty quips are laugh-out-loud funny and she is one of the toughest, fiercest protagonists you’ll ever meet. She reminds me a little bit of Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) in that regard. Plus, the mysterious plot of the book is suspenseful until the very last page. Ari Marmell has all my respect for devising an ending you just absolutely cannot see coming. Nothing is predictable, which is something I truly appreciate. In fact, the ending is a perfect blend of heart-pounding action and heartrending grief. It blew me away, so much so that while I was on the fence before about picking up the sequel, I now absolutely want to read it.
Another of the book’s strengths lies in its tone. The narrator — not Adrienne — is also extremely witty, in a slightly different sense from Adrienne. This type of narration makes the entire book fun to read and allows us to feel as if we’re in on some personal joke. The only place this narration doesn’t work for me is when it’s used with Olgun. I feel like Olgun is almost too humanized when we shouldn’t forget that he’s a God. I also hate any time Adrienne talks to Olgun because it’s completely unrealistic. Since we can’t hear Olgun’s half of the conversation, Adrienne repeats everything he says back to him, which isn’t how anyone would actually talk to another person. For instance, if Olgun were to say, “You couldn’t do this without me,” a realistic response would be, “Yes, I could,” or, “I know.” Instead, Adrienne would say something like, “What do you mean I couldn’t do this without you? Of course I could!” Their conversations really grate on my nerves. I understand why Marmell uses this technique, but I think he could probably find a way to work around it, even if that means giving Olgun an actual voice. But I do like Olgun as a character and the reveals about his relationship with Adrienne are so interesting and thought-provoking. I can’t wait to see their relationship grow in the future.
For those interested in the genre, Thief’s Covenant will be a fun read. It has intrigue, rich descriptions, detailed action sequences, Gods and demons, thievery, and laughs. The ending is sure to leave you anxious for the sequel.
Publication Date: February 2012
Teaser Quote: “To those who dwelt outside the law, within the slums and poor districts, and among the population of the so-called Finders’ Guild, she was neither Madeleine nor Adrienne. She was Widdershins, a simple street-thief like a thousand others. Tonight, Madeleine had done her part admirably; now it was Widdershins’s turn to take over.“