After I finished reading Priest by Matthew Colville, I immediately picked up the sequel, Thief. It takes place immediately after the first book, though the focus has shifted a little bit. Instead of sticking almost solely to the protagonist, the view shifts between him and a few of the other important characters. Haden is certainly an interesting character to follow–that’s kind of the requirement to be a protagonist–but it was also incredibly informative to see him through the eyes of the people around him. Beyond that, the second book was an incredible step forward in depicting the scenes and the fight descriptions were exponentially better. I had to put it down shortly after picking it up in order to play D&D, but I picked it up immediately afterward and accidentally stayed up way too late in order to read more of it.
The plot picks up immediately where the first book left off, throwing in enough background information that a new reader would be able to figure out what is going on but not so much that it gets onerous for an established reader to get through. The twists from the last book are still twists, as Colville often reveals the plot information by exposing other characters to either what happened in the first book or some offshoot of it coming back to bite someone else. There are still enough new twists and plot hooks to keep you pulled in and even more of the wonderful world-building that lets you feel the size of the history without spending more time than necessary talking about it. We’re still not sure what happened to split up the group of adventurers that Haden belonged to, but we do discovered more of what happened as a result of the split. We meet some more of his old friends and discover a little more about the life that Haden lived before he retired. We also get to see more of the incredible weapons, artifacts, and allies he has gained over the course of his career and they are just as incredibly powerful and crazy as you’d expect from a high-leveled D&D campaign. Demigods, wealth beyond the dreams of most mortals, and a casual arrogance when it comes to the importance of stuff. Who cares if your building burned down when you’ve got the money to build a new one or for a wizard to just make it not have burned down in the first place?
I honestly really enjoyed seeing the sort of crazy stuff that is so common to D&D enter into a more typical fantasy novel. The wealth thing I’ve already mentioned, but the incredible fights are also a part of it. Haden gets into it with assassins, a member of his old party who he never liked, a giant elf-creature that is basically a minor deity, and a bunch of weird “undead” creatures that aren’t really undead. He overcomes all of his opponents with the exclusion of the other adventurer. He almost dies half the time, but that’s how a lot of the fights in D&D go: you almost die, but that’s only because you focused on ending the fight as quickly as possible. You could have taken a little more time to avoid injury or fix a problem, but you knew that you’d be able to overcome anything but death itself as long as you were still alive at the end of the battle. He gets poisoned by the assassins he fights, but he doesn’t waste time healing the wounds or purifying his blood, he just kills every assassin in maybe half a minute and then finally fixes himself. Even the description of the fight feels short and brutal, reflecting the way the fight would have seemed to anyone participating in it. The big fight with his ex party member is equally brutal, each participant a hair from death at any given time, only surviving by relying on their instinct, guts, and luck. It was incredible to read.
I enjoyed the expanded cast since it brought a lot of interesting character development to the books and highlighted the way we tend to make assumptions about the people we encounter in our lives. I enjoyed one of the relationships, between Haden and a friend he made a dozen years prior to the novel, and how it develops in this book as Haden realizes he maybe didn’t know as much about his friend as he thought he did, but that doesn’t mean his friend isn’t the man he’d come to appreciate and respect. None of the characters ever feel one-dimensional and, while the villain does go on a bit of a stereotypical “I’m all-powerful and can do whatever I want without consequence!” bender, his megalomania is somewhat excused by the way he’s actually cleverly set up his organization and laid his plans. If it wasn’t for Haden and a few things that can be chalked up to back luck for the villain, he’d have been entirely right. No one would have been able to stop him, even if he walked up to the king and confessed his crimes.
There were more spelling and grammar errors in this one, but the only thing that actually threw me off was a couple of places where the wrong name or pronouns were used as it made it seem like the wrong people were saying things or showing up randomly in scenes they couldn’t have been in. That’s a small price to pay for two really solid, incredibly fun books. Since Colville has plans to make some changes and do some editing, I think they both (but especially Thief) have the potential to be incredibly fun reads.
I hate that I have to wait a while longer (probably at least a couple of years, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more than that) for the next book and the updates Colville plans to make, but I really think Priest and Thief are both really solid already. I suggest picking them up if you’re looking for a fun fantasy book and don’t mind starting a series that doesn’t really have a release schedule of any kind.