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Stealing Life by Antony Johnston. Book review

October 31, 2018

Book cover of Stealing Life showing a figure hanging from the bottom of an airship over a city with skyscrapers.

Nicco Salarum considers himself to be a gentleman and highly successful burglar. Except for the fact that his last heist did not go well, when given the choice of killing a security guard or ditching an expensive shipment he had just stolen, he opted for the latter. This decision has been less than well received by a local mob boss, Wallus Bazhanka, who Nicco had just stolen the consignment for. Now Nicco is more than occupied by having to pay back the shipment’s worth through a prolonged tenure to Bazhanka.

So when a magus, called Xandus, miraculously makes Nicco an offer that seems too good to be true (an enormous sum of money which can buy his freedom from Bazhanka’s servitude) how can Nicco refuse? But by accepting, Nicco only digs himself even further in Bazhanka’s debt in a way he could not have possibly foreseen.

Nicco Salarum is effectively a reincarnation of Slippery Jim diGriz aka the Stainless Steel Rat, the anti-hero criminal of a series of highly entertaining sci-fi novels by Harry Harrison. This means that Stealing Life is equally as readable because Nicco succeeds in getting himself into some terrible scrapes and has to use every ounce of wit and skill at his disposal to get out of them.

Antony Johnston delivers sharp, witty and brilliantly observed prose. One escapade flows into the next and reads in a way that makes you feel as if you’re moving through the scene. This is not surprising as Johnston is well versed in graphic novels and you could visualise the story in panels of pictures. Stealing Life would certainly make a terrific film.

Johnston blends pure fantasy with recognisable technology and policing methods. The outrageous works seamlessly and hand-in-glove with the everyday. So for someone who wants to try some science fiction or fantasy writing, Stealing Life is a good place to start.

I really enjoyed this romp of epic proportions, so I do hope this is only the start of Nicco’s colourful exploits. He’s not the sort of guy to stay out of trouble for long. I also suspect his good friend, cum love interest, Tabathinna, or Tabby for short, is sizing up to be a permanent and worthy partner in crime.

Stealing Life was courtesy of Abaddon Books via NetGalley.

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