Stephen Deas - most-famously author of the Memory of Flames series that began with The Adamantine Palace - came at us last year with a fresh offering set in his established world and geared towards a slightly younger audience. The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice was a fine beginning to a new series. Though the core investigation featured was largely less enticing than it could have been, the novel’s setting and well-wrought characters presented much possibility for the future. Making away with distracting side-plots, Deas in this second Thief-Taker novel, The Warlock’s Shadow, tightens the plot, focusing it on Berren and he continues to haphazardly seek his place in the intrigue-tinged and vibrant city of Deephaven.

Blurb:

Berren is not enjoying himself. Trapped in a temple, forced to learn how to read, how to write and how to recall the histories of the Saints, all he wants is to be given a sword. As a thief-taker’s apprentice he imagined a world of daring night-time chases, glorious victories and a life of excitement. His dreams aren’t quite coming true.

So when a prince - the first and last prince he’ll ever see - hires the thief-taker as a bodyguard, Berren is thrilled. When he hears that a troupe of Dragon-Monks - exotic warriors and the best swordsmen in the world - are visiting, he sees an opportunity to learn how to fight. When one of the Monks turns out to be a girls of his own age, his future suddenly seems a lot brighter.

But when a shadowy figure launches an attack on the life of Prince Sharda, Berren finds himself plunged into a world of danger, intrigue and terror. He may discover that being trained with a sword isn’t enough - sometimes, you have to know who to fight...

I may not have realized it at the time, but The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice wasn’t the best book it could have been. In fact, I was relatively praiseful of it a year ago. Only reading The Warlock’s Shadow has enabled me to determine this. For whatever reason, Deas has come back to this series with a certain freshness and a keener sense for plotting. The Warlock’s Shadow gets off to a first start and never relents. Whereas the its predecessor tried to include a investigation into a pirate cartel, linked to protagonist Berren’s apprenticeship to a Thief-Taker - a glorified private detective/law-enforcer - The Warlock’s Shadow offers a much less convoluted story that brings in interesting elements from the characters’ pasts and sets things up nicely for future novels.

The Warlock’s Shadow is also helped by being a second novel. It does not have to go through the process of introducing all of the characters (and Deas does do much in the way of re-introducing them) and as the setting is virtually unchanged, most of the world-building was already over and done with in the first book. Instead Deas immediately builds up the intrigue with the arrival to Deephaven of a young and pompous Prince to which Berren and Master Sy are assigned as part of a security detail. Things quickly become interesting when an assassination attempt is stopped in its tracks by a surprised Berren.

In his choice of reward for his actions and in many other decisions taken in The Warlock’s Shadow, Berren demonstrates the earnest ambition - and inherent foolishness - of youth. Deas’ characterization of the driven apprentice thief-taker is particularly strong in this second novel. His personality is shaping up to be that of a strong determined hero, but Deas is careful in leaving him plenty of room for him to make mistakes - to our enjoyment, and appreciation of him as a character.

The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice was a book I thought would very much appeal to younger readers because Deas wrote what he thought they would enjoy rather than what he thought they should enjoy. It was a bit edgier than you would expect the typical YA fantasy to be. The Warlock’s Shadow continues in the same vein, blending gritty - even gory - action with themes of betrayal, death, blossoming youthful love, but also magic and adventure, of course. The book’s overall tone gives the sense of having matured at the same rate as Berren. He’s more mature now, so is the story.

Still not perhaps an extraordinary read, Deas’ latest thief-taker book is nevertheless a noticeable improvement on an already worthy volume. Berren shines in The Warlock’s Shadow as his mentor takes a bit of a back seat, and the scope of the story continues to grow. Dragon-monks, assassins, necromancy and enemies long-forgotten are all at the rendez-vous in this greatly entertaining novel. With this and Order of the Scales out this year, Stephen Deas really has shown much growth as a writer, and hopefully he will continue to do so with The Black Mausoleum (Memory of Flames 4) and The King’s Assassin (Thief-Taker 3) are released.

Summarizing Info:
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 13 and up

Links:
Stephen Deas' Website: http://www.stephendeas.com/

Buy The Warlock's Shadow:
Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk
Bookdepository.co.uk