July’s Featured Author D.B. Jackson is here today to talk about Ethan Kaille and Sephira Pryce, the hero and nemesis of his popular Thieftaker series. Read and enjoy!
“Ethan and Sephira: The Heart of the Thieftaker Books” by D.B. Jackson
During my first week here at Drey’s Library, I introduced (or perhaps reintroduced) you to Ethan Kaille, the thieftaking, conjuring hero of my historical urban fantasy series, the Thieftaker Chronicles. Last week, you met his nemesis and rival in thieftaking, the lovely and deadly Sephira Pryce. It’s no coincidence that I wrote those posts from their perspectives. Their rivalry forms both the emotional and narrative core of the series, and in many ways that relationship provided the inspiration that convinced me to start writing the series in the first place.
The Thieftaker books, which include Thieftaker (Tor books, 2012), Thieves’ Quarry (2013), and, most recently, A Plunder of Souls (2014), are set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. Each book revolves around a stand alone mystery, and each is set against the backdrop of some actual historical event from the years leading up to the American Revolution. So for instance, the first book, Thieftaker, takes place on the night of the Stamp Act riots in 1765, and features a fictional murder that I have inserted into the chaos of that night. The newest book, A Plunder of Souls, coincides with a smallpox epidemic that spread through Boston during the summer of 1769; I’ve added a sort of magical ghost story to the near-panic brought on by news of the outbreak.
But history and mystery aside, the common thread running through all of the books, and even through most of the short fiction I’ve written in the Thieftaker universe, is Sephira’s interference in Ethan’s investigations. Sephira is brilliant and cunning, ruthless and violent, beautiful and vain. She is also Boston’s leading thieftaker and she guards that status jealously. She views Ethan as an interloper, someone who came to the profession relatively late in life and who ever since has been stealing coin from her pocket by taking jobs that ought to be hers. She is reluctant to admit that he is actually a rival a thieftaker of her skills has no rivals and even more reluctant to admit that at times she needs him.
Ethan is a conjurer, and so is uniquely suited to solving mysteries tied to what Sephira calls “witchcraft.” When such jobs come her way, she has little choice but to refer the prospective employer to Ethan; since she possesses no “magick” of her own, if she were to take on the inquiry she would fail, harming her sterling reputation. And so, as much as she resents Ethan, she also relies on him to solve those cases that she can’t. This is difficult medicine to swallow for such a proud woman, and it is one of the reasons why she gives Ethan such a difficult time.
For his part, Ethan finds Sephira annoying at best, and a threat to life and limb at worst.
For though Sephira knows in her calmer moments that she is best off with Ethan around, at times she grows so angry with him for taking her wealthiest clients that she sics her toughs on him. In the course of the Thieftaker books, Sephira’s men have threatened Ethan, kidnapped him, beaten him within an inch of his life, and, on more than one occasion, made earnest attempts to kill him. Suffice it to say that Ethan and Sephira have issues.
And yet they also share a grudging respect for each other. Sephira may not like having a rival, and she may pretend that Ethan is nothing more than a neophyte in her trade, but she has learned that he, too, is intelligent, resourceful, canny, and, when necessary, an able fighter. She also can’t deny that there is something compelling, even attractive, about a man who is willing to stand up to her. Ethan has learned all too well that Sephira is no one with whom to trifle, and he cannot fail to notice that she is lovely and alluring. Their sexual tension is unconsummated, and it will remain that way Ethan has a love interest, and Sephira, for all her beauty, is first and foremost an enemy. But it is real nevertheless.
Their rivalry provides much of the tension, drama, and humor in the books, which is exactly what I envisioned when first I conceived the series. You see, Sephira is modeled after a real-life thieftaker named Jonathan Wild, who was active in London in the early eighteenth century. Wild built an empire for himself by hiring men to steal goods from the homes of London’s wealthy, and then returning those same items to their rightful owners for a finder’s fee. He not only grew rich, he also gained a reputation for brilliance because there seemed to be no crime he couldn’t solve. The moment I read about him, I knew that I wanted to write a book about thieftakers, with a corrupt, Wild-like thieftaker serving as nemesis and counterpoint to my honest thieftaking hero. Turning Wild into a woman made the rivalry that much more fun to write.
Ethan and Sephira are, in many ways, opposites: She is young, beautiful, influential, wealthy. He is older, scarred and partially maimed by a hard life, he lives in a small room above a cooper’s shop and he has few friends, none of them powerful. She employs a retinue of toughs; he works alone. She is revered in the streets of Colonial Boston as “The Empress of the South End.” He is an ex-convict who played a prominent role in the infamous Ruby Blade mutiny. She relies on her henchmen, he on his conjurings. And yet, they are also tied to one another by their shared profession, their tenacity, their skill with fists and blade, their resourcefulness. Put another way, they are different enough to distrust one another, but similar enough to be jealous of each other. The resulting interactions drive the Thieftaker series, making the books, I hope, exciting for my readers. And making them a tremendous amount of fun to write.
Well. If that doesn’t make those new to Jackson’s Thieftaker series, want to pick it up, I don’t know what will. 😉 Be sure to check out prior weeks’ posts – and enter the giveaway of a signed copy of A Plunder of Souls!