In the mood for some fun YA fantasy? Meet Widdershins, formerly known as Adrienne Satti: a young woman who grew up as an orphan on the streets of Davillon, escaped poverty to join the city’s powerful aristocracy in a rags-to-riches story, and then shockingly found herself cast down to the bottom rungs of society again. After clawing her way back up to the life of a successful thief in the city’s Finders Guild, she then discovered that the ghosts of her former life—or, more accurately, former lives—are coming back to haunt her…
Ari Marmell introduces the world to this character in Thief’s Covenant, the opening volume of the Widdershins Adventures series, by skipping back and forth in time, from her days as a street urchin to her brief time as a young aristocrat and finally to her current (in)famous life as a thief. The novel is an impressive feat of storytelling: it bounces back and forth between the different phases of the protagonist’s life, giving the reader just enough background about Widdershins to follow the story while at the same time introducing a plot that connects the different phases of her life.
And now, just a few months after the series’ opening volume, here’s book two: False Covenant. The new novel picks up right where Thief’s Covenant left off and features several of the same main players. It’s a much more linear story because we know Widdershins’ history by now, so there’s no need for the constant stream of flashbacks that was Thief’s Covenant. We also know the setting, the French-themed flintlock fantasy city called Davillon with its powerful clergy and its huge pantheon of gods. As a result, the new novel features much less exposition and can instead get straight to the adventure.
False Covenant picks up a number of plot lines that were started or at least hinted at in the first novel, but most of the action derives from a new element: a mysterious (and positively terrifying) monster that’s stalking the streets of Davillon. One sub-plot focuses on a noble who is out for revenge against Widdershins, and a second one on the ongoing tensions between Widdershins and her superiors in the Finders Guild on the one hand and her relation with the city guard on the other. The plot threads are eventually all connected in a way that feels a bit forced, but it’s hard to complain because it leads to a spectacular climactic scene that’ll have you on the edge of your seat.
The star of the show is once again Widdershins: a strong, witty, independent young thief with a big mouth that frequently gets her into trouble. Her invisible companion is Olgun, a (very) minor deity who occasionally manages to affect reality in very small ways to help his only remaining believer. He’s effectively a built-in deus ex machina for the series, but to balance things out, the mainstream religion in this fantasy world frowns upon unlicensed worship, so thank goodness Olgun doesn’t end up making life too easy for Widdershins. On the contrary, actually.
Another strong point is Ari Marmell’s prose. The descriptions and dialogues are often funny in an understated, subtle way, full of whimsical humor, banter, and funny similes. These novels may not make you laugh out loud, but you’ll probably grin more than a few times at quirky phrases or expressions. Like in Thief’s Covenant, there are again a few elements and scenes that are quite dark and violent, and Widdershins herself has some shadows in her past that continue to haunt her, but for the most part this is light and entertaining fare.
This series’ setting and some of its side-characters are very recognizable, and the plotting is a bit breezy at times, so these two short novels may be on the light side for some adult readers. However, for a young adult reader and especially as a gateway to fantasy, Thief’s Covenant and False Covenant are wonderful. The 14-year-old me would have loved these books, because they’re immeasurably better than some of the ghastly media/RPG tie-in fiction I ended up reading as a bridge between children’s books and fantasy for adults. Even now, well past the target age for YA literature, I had a blast revisiting Davillon and Widdershins.