Giant Thief is a very traditional fantasy novel on some levels, and a would-be ground-breaking one on others.  Tallerman's bought into the idea of the unheroic protagonist (as seen in various works from Abercrombie down) and the combination of thief-and-brawn (as seen in works from Leiber on down!) and combined them with high fantasy (of the Tolkeinian style, really - right down to the long travel scenes).  The problem is that in amongst this, Tallerman doesn't give us some of the essential ingredients of a novel: a strong main character, a plot we can believe, or a compelling writing style...

To start with the second first, the plot of Giant Thief - such as it is - follows small-time petty thief Easie Damasco as he steals from rampaging warlord Moaradrid, and ends up with more than he bargains for; a stone that could determine the fate of nations.  Naturally, Damasco's reaction to this is to flee, and keep fleeing - and to try to hang on to the stone, which has no intrinsic value and only keeps him in mortal peril.  If you're wondering why Damasco does this, you're not alone - though Damasco himself doesn't ever consider it.  Damasco also picks up Saltlick, a giant, whom with the power of the stone he can command as if he were the giant king; Saltlick, over the course of the novel, helps and refuses to help Damasco by turns, oddly enough demonstrating a problem that Tallerman refuses to address and setting up huge plotholes, given the absolute power the stone theoretically bestows.  Worse still, much of the novel is spent on chases and travelling; time spent which could better be used to advance plot or character development is instead spent drawing out scenes which should be fast-paced, or at least moving us, is wasted in following our characters from one location to another.

Those characters are, of course, another of the problems of Giant Thief.  Tallerman appears to have had a plot outline in mind, and then tried to draw up characters to fit that outline; but the problem here is that the characters he uses to do so don't actually manage it.  Damasco himself is a small-time thief drawn into larger events - but, despite repeatedly wanting to escape from them, he never really does anything to try and do so.  Instead, he gets moved from crisis point to crisis point by the actions of others, never really claiming any agency himself, and especially with this novel being told from a first-person point of view that really draws a lot of power from the novel: much of it is spent watching Damasco watch others take action, and tell us about it, and that makes for a boring viewpoint, and a boring novel.  The other characters are all rather basic; they're not entirely two-dimensional, at least in some cases - Marina Estrada is a rather nice character, with some decent rounding out, albeit occasionally reverting to previous form and losing character development, and Saltlick's rather underutilised character gleams through the dross with some interest.

All in all, Giant Thief is an incredibly disappointing book; with some interesting ideas, Tallerman has written a book that is boring and characterless, conspiring to throw us out of the action repeatedly and with menace aforethought, and characters who don't stand up to scrutiny.  I've come out of this novel with the feeling that I just had to slog my way through it, not of enjoyment, and that's never a good position to be in...

Giant Thief is out at the end of this month in ebook format and in paperback in the US and Canada, and the 2nd of February for the rest of the world. Review based on an eARC provided by Angry Robot Books.


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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