Giant Thief – David Tallerman

Another review from Interzone, this time from 2012

Giant Thief (From the Tales of Easie Damasco)
David Tallerman, Angry Robot, 384pp, pb

The ambiguity implied in this novel’s title – is the thief a giant or has he stolen one? – extends to the narrative itself. The story begins thrillingly, with the protagonist, Easie Damasco, petty thief and conman, about to be hanged by mercenaries for stealing from a baggage train. The suspense is hard to bear, or would be if it weren’t already blatantly obvious, given that this is the beginning of the novel, that Easie Damasco will survive his ordeal. Certainly, he doesn’t seem like a man given to extensive narrative flashback and if all this weren’t enough of a clue, the novel’s subtitle, ‘From the Tales of Easie Damasco’ suggests that we haven’t seen the last of him, and all this before we’ve even been properly introduced. One can all too easily imagine an older Damasco, hunched over a tavern fire, trotting out a few well-polished yarns for the price of a drink. One wonders too what those other tales will be like, because, in truth, there isn’t much of a story here, and if this is his best one, it doesn’t bode well for the rest.

Damasco gives the impression of being an inept thief who all too easily blunders into trouble before sitting back and letting events take their course. Rarely does he take action on his own account, unless he is directly threatened, and even then he prefers to disentangle himself from the consequences as fast as possible, leaving others to clear up the mess. Damasco is not a man to own his problems if he can palm them off on someone else. Even the ‘theft’ of the giant, Salt Lick, is an accident, and Damasco’s main aim is to ditch him as fast as possible. For Damasco, Salt Lick is little more than a meat machine, capable of absorbing and delivering huge amounts of damage. It is left to others to recognise Salt Lick as a sentient being who is suffering and to deal with him accordingly. Unfortunately, the reader sees all of this through Damasco’s eyes, and for him there is evidently no problem with his attitude.

And here we reach the heart of the problem. If a novel must have a first-person narrator, it would help if he were more interested in what is going on around him than Damasco seems to be. Mainly driven by very basic impulses, to find food, drink, some decent clothes and a soft bed, he is rarely inclined to scale greater heights of reflection or self-examination in his story-telling. By all means let him be a shiftless wastrel with few redeeming features but to then have him tell the story is to leave the reader mostly out of touch with what’s going on. It is difficult to negotiate the political background to the war that is breaking out around Damasco when he has very little interest in what is happening, except insofar as it inconveniences him. By the same token, the reader has no access to Salt Lick’s view of the world, a great pity as Salt Lick is, as even Damasco belatedly comes to realise, probably the most interesting character in the novel, though Marina Estrada, freedom fighter, undoubtedly runs him a close second.

In the end, one is left with the feeling that Giant Thief contains a potentially engaging novel, if only it had been told from a completely different viewpoint. The other characters seem much more involved than Easie Damasco so why choose to tell the story from the point of view of the most supine and disaffected among them in what is clearly intended to be an adventure? For all that I am interested in the progress of Salt Lick, if I am only ever to see him through the eyes of Easie Damasco, I am not sufficiently inspired to linger for more of these tales.