Thief’s Covenant by Ari Marmell – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

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.


This book is like a gateway drug for Game of Thrones.

There is a wonderfully rich flavor to this YA fantasy, with its Renaissance inspired setting, personal pantheon of deities, and dark tone (it even dips a toe in the realm of horror). This is a story with satisfying heft, texture, grit and originality, and I really, really enjoyed reading it.

Now any self respecting fantasy fan is more than familiar with the thief paradigm – if the hero ain’t a Mage or Warrior, s/he’s usually a Thief – but Widdershins never once bumped up against a character I’d read before. She has plenty of personality, is rash in a believable way, and her sheer willfulness is impossible not to enjoy. This is a character that has all the mileage of going through poverty and ruin – not once, but twice – and I really liked how Marmell built that weight into her character. There is a depth to Widdershins, given all she’s seen and done, and it made her very easy to root for.

Of course, I can’t mention Widdershins without bringing up Olgun, her somewhat parasitic diety – and I seriously loved their relationship. I just loved the very idea of a god on the verge of extinction, clinging desperately to his last follower, and I massively loved how Olgun was so personable, how he grumbled and sulked, and even at times panicked and didn’t know what to do. The relationship between the two of them really made this novel for me – it was equal parts inner commentary and snarky repartee – and I really liked how Marmell explored their bond. As a whole, I downright loved the way religion was incorporated into this story, from the wide-ranging pantheon of gods, both societally approved and disapproved, to how everyone from the lowliest thieves to the highest lords has their patron deities. It was downright fascinating, and added a tasty layer to this novel’s world.

As for the plot, the narrative doesn’t proceed in an entirely linear fashion – it jumps around quite a bit, from past to present to in between, and back and forth. I found it to be equal parts interesting and jarring; it forced me to pay attention, but honestly I thought the device was a little heavy handed at times. It does work, in that the intrigue unfolds in a compelling, kaleidoscopic way, and all the different pieces seamlessly come together, but at times it felt like the sophisticated method of telling the story overpowered the story that was actually being told (and I even found myself wondering if the narrative jumping was a way to disguise some of the thinner plot points). Overall I did get a tad ahead of things, and the Evil Monster was a bit, well, overt, but the action moved along nicely and I very much enjoyed how the peril strayed a bit into horror territory. Bottom line, the whodunit works – it’s not flawless, but it kept me glued until the end.

All in all, Thief’s Covenant is kind of like the dark chocolate of YA fantasy – rich, complex, and satisfying. This isn’t a perfect book, but I truly enjoyed it – and I’ll definitely be picking up the next Widdershins Adventure.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Blog Critics say:

Be prepared: No character is safe in this book. Ari Marmell began his career writing for games such as Dungeons and Dragons and it shows. There is a lot of very graphic suffering and death in this story. But if you like dark fantasy, you will be engrossed, moved and intrigued by this intense adventure, whether you are a teen or an adult. Thief’s Covenant is a powerful fantasy and a riveting story.

Word for Teens says:

Even with its tendency to flip back and forth in the timeline to show more about Widdershin’s past (“8 Years Ago,” “Now,” “Still Now,” “2 Years Ago”, etc.) I was kept hanging on the edge of my seat, excited to see if she’d survive the next roof-to-roof jump, or the next encounter with one of the Guild, or one of the Guards.

Kirkus Reviews says:

For teens already reading adult fantasy but wanting something a bit more on their level, this hits the spot perfectly, flaws and all.