Barb & J.C. Hendee,
Thief of Lives
(Roc, 2004)

Any list of the best writers of vampire novels working today must include the dynamic duo of Barb & J.C. Hendee. Their first collaborative effort gave the world Dhampir, a truly engaging vampire tale set in a rich atmosphere suggestive of mediaeval times. It was there that we first met Magiere, the acclaimed vampire hunter; her half-human, half-elf partner Leesil; and Leesil's extraordinary dog, Chap. Magiere and Leesil used to be con artists, staging vampire kills to rob superstitious villagers of their collective wealth, but Magiere grew tired of the game and the guilt that came with it, choosing to settle down in the town of Miiska and run a tavern. As luck would have it, though, Miiska was the home of three very real vampires. The game had become real, and Magiere, Leesil and Chap endured great pains as they sought to rid the city of its undead killers. Magiere struggled most of all with the newly acquired knowledge that she was a dhampir who could, she feared, kill Leesil unintentionally when she needed blood to survive a life-threatening injury.

Thief of Lives begins right where Dhampir left off. The vampire threat in Miiska has been dealt with, although one of the vampires is unaccounted for. Magiere's hope that her vampire-hunting days are over is soon dashed when a letter arrives from Bela -- it seems the metropolis is dealing with a vampire menace of its own, and a councilman's daughter is the latest victim of a truly vicious attacker. A certain little matter of a burned warehouse in Miiska and the economic impact it has wrought on the town leaves Magiere little choice but to reluctantly head to Bela. By the time she arrives, she has already had to survive one attack on her life. Awaiting her and Leesil is a blast from the past -- good old Ratboy. Now freed from the grip of his creator, Ratboy has cleaned himself up pretty impressively and taken on the airs of a nobleman of sorts, creating his own special minions to protect him and, in the case of the tempestuous Sapphire, arouse his ardor. I had my doubts that the Ratboy we met in Dhampir would prove a worthy opponent for Magiere and Leesil in this novel, but the Handees did a great job redefining him.

The vampire-hunting action is just as exciting as it was in Dhampir, but Thief of Lives adds a new mixture of potentially noxious potions to the pot. Magiere and Leesil are forced to come to grips with their emotionally troubling pasts, and questions are answered that neither partner ever dared ask before. New foes -- and one all too familiar one -- stand in opposition to them, posing altogether new types of threats to those who would take their heads. A startling revelation about the duo's uncommonly intelligent dog Chap is revealed, forcing Magiere and Leesil to reevaluate their own history together. As coincidences begin to add up, it eventually becomes clear to our heroes that something fishy is going on in Bela; it's as if someone is playing with them, manipulating their every encounter with their foes. Running around in the shadows is Welstiel Massing, Magiere's mysterious "benefactor" from the earlier novel. You had to wonder what this guy was really up to; Thief of Lives begins to give the reader some answers. Did I also mention that an elfin assassin has come to Bela to deal with Leesil as a traitor to his people?

With so much going on, Thief of Lives gives the reader an even more immersive story than that of Dhampir. You get plenty of plot and subplot for your money, and the increasingly complex characters are explored much more deeply, as we see them forced to deal with the discomfort of painful memories. By the time all is said and done, Magiere and Leesil have begun to forge an entirely new type of relationship.

Readers will be thrilled to know that the story of Magiere and Leesil does not end here. A new and unexpected quest is revealed at novel's end, and some intriguing questions -- such as the actual fate of Leesil's elfin mother -- jump to the forefront. Clearly, there is fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of a third exciting novel in this uncommonly compelling series, and I will be one of many readers anxiously awaiting its publication.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 30 October 2004

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