Like prequels, spinoffs are tricky things to get right; they need to strike a balance between recalling the original series and carrying a story of their own, neither requiring the reader to be familiar with the original series nor ignoring its influence. Nowhere is this more true than in A Book of Spirits and Thieves, which takes the reader to modern-day Toronto, a place utterly removed from Mytica. This means that it has a very different feel to Falling Kingdoms, as it’s really more of an urban fantasy; even the one POV character in Mytica lives decades before the events of Falling Kingdoms, in a society and culture quite different from those of Limeros, Paelsia and Auranos.
However, this of course means that as the reader we get to actually see many of the aspects of the mythology that permeates the narrative of Falling Kingdoms. For instance, the goddess Valoria is an actual character ruling northern Mytica, and this is what links A Book of Spirits and Thieves to Falling Kingdoms, making it interesting to readers of that series.
It wouldn’t be much of a novel if its only appeal lay in the backstory provided by only one of the three POV characters, of course, and if you’re reading it just for its connection to Falling Kingdoms you’ll be disappointed, because A Book of Spirits and Thieves stands on its own two feet.
A Book of Spirits and Thieves is told from three interwoven points of view: Crys, an aspiring photographer in Toronto whose sister, Becca, falls into a coma after touching an unfamiliar book; Farrell, whose family belongs to a secret Torontonian society run by the engimatic and magical Markus; and Maddox, a young man in ancient Mytica who can see spirits – including Becca’s. Together, they form an engaging narrative about family and free will.
Family plays an important role in all three POV characters’ stories, but it was Crys and Becca’s relationship that I enjoyed the most. It’s rare to see a nuanced relationship between teenage sisters in fiction, one where the people involved love each other deeply but aren’t the best of friends, but that’s how my sisters and I were as teenagers, and I loved seeing that reflected in Crys and Becca’s relationship.
One of my favourite parts of the novel, however, is the Toronto antagonist, Markus. I’m not usually the kind of person to really love the villain of a novel as a character, but Markus is fascinating because he seems to truly believe what he is doing is right. Once a season, he plays judge, jury and executioner for some poor soul whom his followers have brought before him. Yet there appears to be evidence for these people’s guilt, and it’s implied that the blood sacrifice is used for magic that helps make Toronto safe and prosperous. In other words, he is killing people, but he believes that by doing so he is removing a threat and at the same time fuelling his magic in the most moral way possible.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of his characterisation is that we don’t get direct insight into his mind, but instead it’s at one degree removed. Markus compels his followers’ loyalty through magic, and so as Farrell becomes more deeply involved in his organisation we see his thoughts and rationalisations as the magic works on his mind and, by extension, Markus’ reasoning and beliefs. We get an idea of what Markus is thinking without actually learning what’s going through his head. And it is fascinating.
If you loved Fallen Kingdoms, then you’ll find the same characteristic blend of intrigue, magic, treachery and romance in A Book of Spirits and Thieves. Though it does provide some backstory to Fallen Kingdoms, however, there are no spoilers and it stands on its own as a gripping adventure that melds the modern world with a pre-industrial fantasy land, making for an exciting start to a new trilogy.
Nicola grew up near Toronto, and always does a double-take when she sees it represented in fiction; somehow it just seems a little bit too real. You can find her on Twitter.