Guest Blog & Giveaway: D.B. Jackson on Blending of History with Urban Fantasy & win THIEFTAKER

July 7, 2012 Giveaways, Guests 34

Today we are excited to have D.B. Jackson to talk about the blending of history with urban fantasy in the first book The Thieftaker Chronicles called  THIEFTAKER (available now from Tor Books). In her review, Abigail described it as “Harry Dresden meets Sherlock Homes…a completely immersive and thoroughly entertaining book.  Jackson’s well-researched historical details coupled with his fresh and comprehensive worldbuilding are not to be missed.”  Be sure to enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy of THIEFTAKER.

Guest Blog

Blending of History with Urban Fantasy


D.B. Jackson

THIEFTAKER, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)

My newest novel, THIEFTAKER, book I of the Thieftaker Chronicles (Tor Books), is my first attempt at writing urban fantasy — historical urban fantasy, to be more precise.  My previous novels were epic fantasies — sprawling, alternate-world stories filled with castle intrigue, wars, and sorcery.  With THIEFTAKER I not only got away from the medieval castle stuff, I actually returned to our world.

The Thieftaker Chronicles, is set in Colonial Boston on the eve of the American Revolution.  Each book features a stand-alone murder mystery built around a different historical event leading toward the rebellion against British rule.  The mystery in this first book coincides with the Stamp Act riots of 1765.  On the night of the riots, a young woman is found murdered.  Officials of the Crown wish to blame the rioters, but our hero, Ethan Kaille, conjurer and thieftaker, has other ideas and soon finds himself enmeshed in a web of magic and politics.  The mystery in the second book, THIEVES’ QUARRY, which will be out in the summer of 2013, takes place against the backdrop of the occupation of Boston in the fall of 1768.  And I have it in mind to write at least two more books in the Thieftaker “universe.”

In blending the historical elements of my story into what I envisioned as an urban fantasy, I needed to find a balance between giving my book the gritty, almost contemporary feel one often finds in UF stories, and maintaining an authentic eighteenth century ambiance that would be true to my setting and my historical characters.

One of the keys to making that balance work lay in bringing to life the “urban” in my urban fantasy.  Boston in the 1760s was a fascinating place.  Once, only three or four decades earlier, it had been the preeminent city in Colonial North America.  Though small by the standards of English cities, Boston was as large as any town in the New World.  It was a vibrant, prosperous center of culture, commerce, and politics.

But an economic slump at mid-century took some of the gloss off the city, and as the impact of European wars reached the New World, Boston fell upon hard times.  While its rivals, New York and Philadelphia, continued to grow, expand, and prosper, Boston stagnated.  By the 1760s the city had become seedy, depressed, a gray shadow of what it had been.  And yet, it would soon also become a hotbed of political activism.  These developments were less than ideal for the city’s people, but they make 1760s Boston the perfect setting for a murder mystery, and the perfect home for a protagonist who is down on his luck and somewhat past his own best days.

"A Memory of Freedom," by D. B. Jackson (art by Wayne Miller)

“A Memory of Freedom,” by D. B. Jackson (art by Wayne Miller)

Thus, in this case, getting the historical details right — or as close to right as possible — enabled me to accomplish both of my primary aims.  I created a setting for my book that, I hope, looks, smells, feels, and sounds like pre-Revolutionary Boston.  I tried to capture the sensual (in the truest sense of the word) qualities of the city; I sought to convey the grim economic conditions; and, of course, I made the growing political upheaval central to my plot line.  And in doing these things, I brought that grittiness I mentioned earlier to my story, because Boston at that time was, quite simply, a hard-edged city.

The other key element in maintaining historical authenticity while giving the book an urban fantasy flavor revolved around tone and the voice of my point of view character.  In my epic fantasies, I tended to have a large cast of point of view characters.  I could shift viewpoints with each new chapter, and sometimes within chapters with breaks in the text.  Each character had his or her own voice, and had a unique take on events taking place in the story.  And of course, epic fantasy often has its own style — a sweeping scope, a certain sense of world-shattering consequence to various events, a certain formality to the prose.

"A Spell of Vengeance" by D.B. Jackson, illustration by Chris McGrath

“A Spell of Vengeance” by D.B. Jackson, illustration by Chris McGrath

Urban fantasy, at least as I have written it, is quite different.  First of all, Ethan Kaille is my only point of view character.  Everything that the reader experiences is tinged with his perceptions and emotions.  So in order to keep that voice fresh for an entire book, an entire series, I have to make it truly unique and idiosyncratic.  This is one of the reasons I am so fond of Ethan as a character.  I have given him an intricate background and made him complex, conflicted, difficult to like at some times, and yet charming at others.  Because the story revolves around a mystery, I have also given the book a subtle “noir” tone, so that while my characters speak in the vernacular of the 1760s, the book reads as a crime thriller.  And finally, in part because of this desire to have a mystery feel, I have made the story lean, the prose sparse.  The result is a novel that is different in nearly every way from anything I’ve written before.

Too often, it seems to me, urban fantasy is assumed to be a very specific sort of book — contemporary in setting as well as tone, and populated by vampires, werewolves, zombies, or some other sort of creature.  There is nothing wrong with such books.  I love reading them.  But urban fantasy is far more inclusive than such a narrow view implies.  Urban settings can be found in a myriad of places and times, some of them familiar, others as exotic as the imagination allows.  Gritty story lines can take any number of surprising twists and turns.  Hard-boiled point of view characters can be of whatever gender, race, historical period, or even species the author chooses.  With THIEFTAKER I wrote a book I might not have considered “urban fantasy” a year or two ago.  But UF is more than a label, and more than a cluster of bookstore shelves.  It is a dynamic genre, and one in which I am currently having a great deal of fun.

 D.B. JacksonD.B. Jackson was born in New York many, many years ago, and has since lived in New England, California, Australia, and Appalachia. He did his undergraduate work at Brown University, worked for a time as a political consultant, went to Stanford University, where he earned a Master’s and Ph.D. in U.S. History, and finally returned to his first love: writing fiction.



Giveaway provided by Tor
One copy of THIEFTAKER by D.B. Jackson & a T-shirt

Thieftaker (Thieftaker Chronicles, #1)


Available now from Tor Books


Boston, 1767: In D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, revolution is brewing as the British Crown imposes increasingly onerous taxes on the colonies, and intrigue swirls around firebrands like Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. But for Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who makes his living by conjuring spells that help him solve crimes, politics is for others…until he is asked to recover a necklace worn by the murdered daughter of a prominent family.

Suddenly, he faces another conjurer of enormous power, someone unknown, who is part of a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of power in the turbulent colony. His adversary has already killed—and not for his own gain, but in the service of his powerful masters, people for whom others are mere pawns in a game of politics and power. Ethan is in way over his head, and he knows it. Already a man with a dark past, he can ill afford to fail, lest his livelihood be forfeit. But he can’t stop now, for his magic has marked him, so he must fight the odds, even though he seems hopelessly overmatched, his doom seeming certain at the spectral hands of one he cannot even see.

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34 Responses to “Guest Blog & Giveaway: D.B. Jackson on Blending of History with Urban Fantasy & win THIEFTAKER”

  1. Laurie T (ReaderGirls)

    I would love to go back to the Regency period and experience England like Jane Austen did. Thank you for having D.B. Jackson today. His post is one of the best I’ve read and makes me want to read The Thieftaker even more (it’s on my wishlist).

  2. Ricki

    My favorite time to read about is turn of the century, but as I want my AC, I would love to go back to the 80s and be old enough to enjoy them.

  3. JenM

    I don’t really want to go back in time because I would miss modern hygiene and medical care too much, but if I had to pick an era, I guess I’d pick the 60’s. There was such a sense of hope and so much social upheaval that I think it would be very interesting.

  4. Brenda Knutson

    I would hold onto my travel token and use it when and if I knew I could prevent a disaster from occurring. For example, if it would save my friend’s son from dying in a car accident. I would be careful about using it on too big of an event just in case it would edit the future in a very bad manner.

  5. LisaC

    I like your expansive view of urban fantasy. I would love to see the genre evolve, especially to include other time periods and cultures. Thieftaker sounds awesome. Thanks for the chance to win.

  6. Rain Maiden

    I live in an old gold mining town and always wanted to see it in its gold rush days. Thanks for a chance to win a copy, it’s already on my wish list.

  7. Lexi

    Fun post! Thieftaker sounds like quite the story. I like how you have written a Historical Urban Fantasy, a lot of elements brought into it.
    If I could travel back in time I would pick around the time of 300 BC, and end up in Ireland/Scotland/England and see where their tales came from…see if there was any truth to the legends.

  8. erinf1

    Thanks for a great post and Congrats on the new release!!!

    I’d have to say that I’d love to go back and visit the days of Ancient Rome and Egypt. See the whole Antony and Cleopatra thing up close!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  9. Molly Frenzel

    If I could travel back in time, crap, that’s a seriously hard question. Where wouldn’t I go. I’d go to my past, to the Italian Renaissance (to meet Da Vinci), to the 60s (Woodstock), and probably every time period I can think of to experience it for myself.

  10. kelsey d

    I’d go back to ancient Greece, I’d love to see all that marvel with my own eyes!

  11. justpeachy36

    I would go back to Scotland before the Jacobite Rising. A more simple time for my Scottish ancestors.

  12. Natasha

    I would pick the 1960s. Thanks for the chance to win!

  13. Riva Laughlin

    What a fascinating idea for an urban fantasy! I would love to go back to early US colonial times. That era has always interested me.

  14. Barbara Elness

    If I could travel back in time I’d wouldn’t go too far back, I’m too afraid. 😀 What with the disease, lack of sanitary facilities, etc. I’d probably stick to something a bit more modern, like Victorian era America or England, or maybe 1920’s America.

  15. Samantha D

    I would go to North America before 1482 perhaps a good 100 or 200 years before then. That way i could see what Native American life was like before outside influence! I would to see my ancestors and learn their ways!

  16. Raelene

    HMMMM so many choices but I think I would love to go back in time to Ireland. This sounds like a great read, thanks for the giveaway.

  17. Victoria Zumbrum

    I would travel back to the time of King Arthur and Camelot. I think that was such a romantic time period.

  18. Bethany C.

    I think I would choose the Renaissance…until I had to use the bathroom.

  19. Ron Pratt

    I want to visit England in the early days of Beatlemania.

  20. Denise Z

    I think I would go to New Orleans in the early 1800s. Thank you for taking the time and effort to share with us today. The Theiftaker sounds awesome Now if you could live anywhere, finances not being an issue, where would to live?

  21. Kai W.

    I would go back to World War II era. For some reasons, I just seems to be curious about this time period and I keep on researching this era.

  22. HollyB

    Ahhh, so excited about this giveaway!!! I’ve been wanting to read this book since I first saw notice of it on Tor’s website. Yay! Congratulations to you, Mr. Jackson!

    If I could travel back in time, and if I were allowed to use that ability to alter the past, I would most definitely go back to January of 2008 and prevent my sister from being killed by her husband. I don’t care what I’d have to do to accomplish it, and I don’t care if it altered the future somehow – I’d give just about anything to be able to change that.

    If I weren’t “allowed” to use this time-traveling ability for that purpose and could only use it for observational purposes, I’d most definitely go back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. It is the period of time about which I read the most books, and I would love to see what it was really like!!

  23. Léa Rose

    Hmmm choices choices, ancient china, or ancient egypt. although celtic ireland (way pre christianity) are all times I would like to visit 🙂

  24. Van Pham

    I would go back to Victorian England or Ancient Egypt.

  25. Natalia J

    I would go to England during the Victorian era, I wish I would be able to travel back and forth so it would be a little bit more bearable to live.

  26. Scoot

    I love historical fiction novels and fantasy novels – blending them together sounds amazing! I can’t wait to read Thieftaker. As for traveling back in time I would love to visit the medieval era. But I would want to come back to present day quickly because I am a huge fan of modern plumbing! 😉

  27. Melissa (Books and Things)

    Honestly I’m not sure if I would go back in time. I’d probably end up somewhere and no indoor plumbing. I need indoor plumbing. Camping for a while is one thing, but living like that is another… LOL

  28. nan

    Either WWII or colonial America, though the lack of plumbing comment does give me pause on my latter choice.