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Book Review: False Covenant by Ari Marmell

Widdershins next adventure has the rags to riches to rags thief face off against a strange supernatural foe that threatens an already stressed and threatened city of Davillon

PROS: Widdershins remains an interesting and engaging heroine. Good use of consequences of first novel in developing events in this one.
CONS: The writing isn’t quite as crisp and bright as the first novel.
VERDICT: A solid follow-up to Thief’s Covenant and second YA novel from Marmell.

In Thief’s Covenant (My SF Signal Review here) we were introduced to Adrienne Satti, aka Widdershins. Thief. Last worshiper of the small God Olgun. Rags to Riches to Rags story. The first novel was very much an origin story, as the jumping timelines gave us a sense of who she was, and how she obtained her unusual background and abilities.

Now, in False Covenant, Ari Marmell moves forward with Widdershins.  Six months have passed since the events of the first novel. Davillon has not been doing well, and neither has our heroine. In a case of kick-them-when-they’re-down, a new threat looms over Davillon, and given her abilities and connection to Olgun, Widdershins may be the only person able to combat it. But even as this occurs, Widdershins has her own personal struggles to deal with as well. Widdershins is finding out that growing up is NOT easy.

In some ways, False Covenant is a much simpler book in structure and format than Thief’s Covenant. With the origin story out of the way, Marmell can and does tell a relatively linear narrative about the next episode in Widdershins’ life.  So the games with time and the problems with a sometimes too-fractured narrative (a problem I highlighted in my review) are gone. The novel assumes you’ve read Thief’s Covenant first, and I can’t really imagine reading this book first given it launches right into Widdershins’ changed circumstances and spools out its plot in relatively short order.

Many of the strengths of the first novel are here in the second. Widdershins has a good relationship with Olgun, giving her someone she can always “talk to”. As a nod to her changed circumstances and the events of the first novel, Widdershins felt much less like a loner than in the first novel. She has developed relationships with various characters in this book. However, the Olgun-Widdershins relationship never gets short shrift, even if its not as immediately central as it was in the first novel

There are some good and interesting action beats in the novel, just as in the first novel. Although there is still some levity and light moments, in the second novel the action turns more serious, dangerous and violent. It’s a natural development from the style of the first novel.

And that is a theme that extends beyond the action beats, too. In general, the novel deepens and develops Widdershins life and circumstances in a believable way. I had wondered if Marmell was going to write this series in an episodic, serial way that could be read in any order, without any real changes to the basic premises and the character. I am happy to report that, despite the novel being YA, Marmell is not afraid to alter and develop his world and his characters. He doesn’t quite blow up Vulcan in this novel, but I get the sense that the author would not be afraid to do so, and certainly the Widdershins at the end of this book is NOT the Widdershins at the beginning of this book, and especially not the Widdershins at the beginning of Thief’s Covenant. We also get some interesting character arcs and development from characters other than Widdershins.

I think this change in tone even goes as far as the excellent Jason Chan covers for the two novels. If you look at the cover art for Thief’s Covenant, its playful, and light, with her overhead and upside down. Compare that to the cover for False Covenant where Widdershins is much more serious, mature, and set for business. Given Lou Anders’ (Pyr’s Editorial Director) strong interest in covers and what they say about a novel, I can’t help but think that this is a deliberate signal shift.

The major weakness I found with the book is that the book is how, by comparison to the first, False Covenant comes off a little flat in the character department.  The first book crackled with life.  Don’t mistake me, the humor is still there, and the writing is entertaining, but it’s as if Marmell traded some of the energy he infused into the characters and writing form the first novel, for heavier themes and changes to his world.  This gives the book a different feel, and I’m not entirely certain its as successful as the first book in the series.

The other thing about this novel, branching off of the idea above, is that the changes make this novel feel somewhat less YA.  It doesn’t quite reach the mature writing of The Goblin Corps with its euphemisms for language and overall tone. However, by comparison to Thief’s Covenant, the parallel that comes to mind are the earlier and later books in the Harry Potter sequence. I don’t know if this was deliberate.

Still, the end of False Covenant (no spoilers) definitely continues to upset the applecart for Widdershins and her world.  Far from writing himself into a corner, he has plenty of opportunities to develop and grow Widdershins and the world she lives in. I definitely will be very interested in where he takes the story of her and her world. (How about a Map?!). I understand that there will be a couple more books in Widdershins story, and I for one am eager to read them.

As always, don’t start here. Go read Thief’s Covenant, and start Widdershins’ story for yourself.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!
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