Last Updated on February 12, 2024
No Heart for a Thief is the introspective dark fantasy debut from indie author James Lloyd Dulin and the first entry in his Malitu series.
The novel opens with a bang as Kaylo, an aging thief and self-described spirit dancer, rescues a fourteen-year-old girl, Tayen, from enemy soldiers who murdered her family. Tayen soon recognizes Kaylo as the famous but reclusive Hero of Anilace, also known as Ennea’s Thief. But Kaylo feels unworthy of such glorious titles and assumes personal responsibility for the ongoing war between Ennea and the invading Gousht Empire. Kaylo’s solitary existence comes to an end as he reluctantly becomes mentor and guardian for the orphaned Tayen.
The plot of No Heart for a Thief is told on two timelines. Although the novel opens with the present-day story of a middle-aged Kaylo protecting and training Tayen, most of No Heart for a Thief consists of Kaylo narrating his backstory to Tayen. Kaylo’s story is full of tragedy for which he feels personal responsibility. The passing of eighteen years has not healed his emotional wounds or lessened his sense of guilt.
Kaylo tells Tayen of his own training as a boy discovering his powers as a spirit dancer, i.e., an Ennean who has the ability to hear The Song and wield the power of one of the Great Spirits. There are seven Great Spirits of Ennea: The Shadow, The River, The Flame, The Mountain, The Wind, The Seed, and The Thief. Each of the Great Spirits can bestow magical abilities on their spirit dancers. The Thief is the most controversial of the spirits, known for her pursuit of power or equity, depending on one’s perspective. Her gift is to borrow the magical powers of the other spirits.
Despite the epic scale of the war between Ennea and the Gousht Empire, the focus of No Heart for a Thief is very personal. Kaylo’s coming-of-age backstory reveals the connections between his history and the more recent events in Tayen’s life. One of my favorite parts of No Heart for a Thief is seeing the bond develop between these two unlikely companions. I wish that more pages had been devoted to this present-day story.
The intertwining nature of religion and magic is a highlight of No Heart for a Thief. James Lloyd Dulin contrasts the polytheistic religion of Ennea with the monotheistic beliefs of the Gousht Empire, who as colonizers seek to impose their religion on the Ennean people, instructing them in the ways of their One True God. The intersection of the Ennean and Gousht belief systems also forms the basis for a rather surprising plot twist late in the novel. Dulin leverages this twist to give a satisfying conclusion to No Heart for a Thief while also setting up nicely for the next volume of the series. However, I was hoping for more moral complexity among the Gousht Empire, who serve as classic epic fantasy villains.
Overall, No Heart for a Thief is a solid debut from James Lloyd Dulin and recommended for fans of introspective character-driven fantasy with innovative magic systems.