By Antony Johnston

Reviewed by Sarah Jackson

Abaddon Books' Dreams of Inan Series is described as 'an exciting fantasy series, mixing high technology and magic, set in a world of adventure, intrigue and action.' Antony Johnston's Stealing Life delivers all of this in abundance. It is a well written, fast paced action-fantasy narrative set in a futuristic world where high-tech gadgets and spells exist side by side, but not necessarily in harmony.

The first part of the story is about our hero, Nicco, expert thief, son of a prostitute and gentle soul whose refusal to kill has recently gotten him into trouble with the local mob boss. He owes Bazankha money, and he is dead if he doesn't find a way to pay it back. So when a strange wizard offers him a well paid job, Nicco takes it against his better judgment.

The second part of the story is the aftermath of that job. Nicco finds himself mixed up in a religious and political struggle and upheaval that he had never been aware existed while he fights to save his own life and the lives of those he cares about in a desperate race against time. He comes to realize some deeper truths about the nature of power and those who have it, and also learns some important truths about himself and his own history along the way.

I have to say that this book was not what I was expecting at all. It was so much more. I expected a bit of escapism, a bit of light relief- wizards, thieves, flying cars and a few entropy guns thrown in for good measure. And it's all there. As pure escapism, this is a bloody good read, but if you are looking for something to get your teeth into and really think about, it's got that too. As I mentioned, there are references to religious and political struggles which parody events in the real world and, if you are inclined to do so, can spark deeper thoughts on the subjects. There are also references to race issues, immigration, and xenophobia. None of it is prescriptive or preachy, it just draws attention to the fact that there are issues to address, and leaves the reader to make up their own mind. Or not.

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The colorful characters, clever plotting, and smooth writing make for a thoroughly enjoyable read. Whether you are usually a fan of fantasy or not, I'd definitely recommend getting hold of a copy.

Stealing Life by Antony Johnston. Paperback, 320 pp, £6.99. Published by Abaddon Books and available in all good bookshops, or online from Amazon

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