The Thursday feature “Tough Traveling” is the brainchild of Nathan of Review Barn, who has come up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in (and inspired by) The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones. Nathan has invited anyone who is interested to come play along, so be sure to check out the first link for more information.
This week’s tour topic is: Heists/Cons
Smash and grabs are not always the best way to illicitly acquire objects in fantasy land. Sometimes these things take planning, a loyal crew, and a little bit of luck. But a good crew can always get the job done.
I LOVE this week’s topic! Heist books and stories about daring capers are like my guilty pleasure and I’m really looking forward to what everyone else has on their lists. I’m constantly on the lookout for more heist books.
Edit: Well, I originally thought I’d leave The Palace Job for either Tiara or Wendy but I guess we love that book so much here that it’s a given. Patrick Weekes‘ rollicking fantasy heist book definitely deserves top spot in this week’s topic. It’s great. Read it.
Premonitions by Jamie Schultz
Premonitions has got it all, including your quintessential caper crew. However, there’s nothing typical about Karyn Ames and her team of thieves. Karyn herself fits the role of mastermind, but also has this debilitating condition which allows her to hallucinate slices of the future – a useful power when you’re the one responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your crew, but it can get out of hand, especially when a notorious crime lord offers you and your friends two million dollars to steal an ancient occult artifact.
California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout
California Bones has everything I want in a heist novel: a diverse crew with each member equipped with specific, specialized talents? Check. High stakes? Check. Innovative solutions to get around alarm systems, physical barriers and other security measures? Check. And last but most importantly, lots of plot twists to set up an explosive final act. Double check. Our protagonist Daniel and his friends are offered the job of a lifetime. The score? Caches of untold osteomantic treasures in the Heirarch’s heavily guarded storehouse.
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
In the first half, we have an exciting heist story. Quentin meets up in the back of a book store with a bunch of other strangers, called there by a mysterious benefactor, a…talking crow? All of them are put through tests until the ultimate team is chosen. Departing from convention, however, this heist doesn’t go well at all. Despite months of preparation, things get pretty disastrous.
Skin Game by Jim Butcher
The latest Dresden Files book is a heist story, I was happy to discover when I picked it up. Some old friends come along for the ride, as well as a few new faces. Among this team of talented individuals, we have the thief Anna Valmont, the rogue warlock Hannah Ascher, the wizard mercenary Binder, a shapeshifter named Goodman Grey, and even a forest creature called a Genoskwa. And of course, Harry, Karrin Murphy, and Michael Carpenter. They are led by the nefarious Nicodemus and his daughter Deirdre, and as we all know, whenever the Denarians get involved, we get our fair share of treachery, deceit, and unexpected twists and turns.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
I would be shocked if we don’t see this one on a lot of lists this week. Young Locke Lamora and all his friends in the Gentleman Bastards crew live for heists and long cons, led by their mentor Father Chains. This first book as well as its sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies both prominently feature a heist story or caper themes.
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
It’s easy to forget sometimes that Mistborn is essentially a fantasy caper story. We have Kelsier the charismatic leader and mastermind, his various friends with clashing personalities and unique talents, and finally a young newcomer in the form of Vin to round out this motley thieving crew of magic users. The job: to overthrow the Final Empire by robbing its treasury blind and collapsing its entire economy.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Most heist stories make for rather light and fun books, though the same really cannot be said of Neuromancer – it’s a much heavier and more challenging read, but it does feature a caper. Case is a burned out hacker and cyberthief, ruined when his ability to jack into the matrix is taken away by a neurotoxin. Then a mysterious employer contacts him and offers him a sweet job to steal a ROM module that holds the saved consciousness of one of Case’s old mentors.
Jhereg by Steven Brust
Vlad Taltos works as a killer-for-hire in the House of Jhereg (an order like the mafia in this fantasy world). One day, a powerful underworld boss offers him a lucrative contract to track down and assassinate a council member. It is discovered, unfortunately, that his target has fled to the home of Dragonlord Morrolan who is also Vlad’s good friend. Now Vlad has to try and figure out a way to fulfill his contract without royally pissing off Morrolan, whose strict rule against the killing of anyone on his premises while they are under his protection is proving to be more than just a minor inconvenience. Much of the book revolves around Vlad trying to come up with creative ways around the rules of Morrolan’s hospitality.
The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron
Some thieves like to go big, but none probably go as far as Eli Monpress who has gotten it into his head to steal not an object of value or item of power. No, the magician-thief has set his sights on stealing the king himself. If he pulls this off, he’ll gain what he’s always wanted, which is the reputation as being the best thief in the world. His plans to increase his notoriety fall through, however, when he unwittingly brings about political turmoil that could threaten the kingdom and even the spirits of the land.
Inception written and directed by Christopher Nolan
While I’ve got a couple more books in mind, I wanted to stick to 10 and round up my last pick with a nod to a great film, one of my favorite sci-fi heist/caper stories of all time. The film is, of course, Inception. Cobb works as a freelance “extractor”, cracking into people’s dreams like a thief would crack into a bank vault. He rounds up a team for one big job, though instead of “stealing” something, they are attempting to plant an idea in their target’s head.
Since I’d used The Palace Job for a lot of these, I decided not to use it this time. I was actually going to choose Neuromancer first, but Mogsy best me to it. I’ve actually read more heist/con-like stories than I give myself credit for but more in the science fiction vein. However, I was able to rustle up a few fantasy books I’ve read, too, aside from The Palace Job. The Palace Job was just one of the more fun fantasy ones I’ve read.
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
Jean le Flambeur is a thief including being a mind-thief. In fact, he’s been many con-types throughout his lifetime, and now, he’s serving time in the Dilemma Prison, which he’s sprung from by a woman named Mieli. However, he now has two dilemmas. He has to keep his other self from killing him and he has to pull off a helluva heist, the one that got away.
The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth
In the 22nd century, people are needed to colonize Venus because Earth is overpopulated. Only problem is Venus is not a great place to live (yet), so the government uses a copywriter, Mitch, to write enticing ads, conning people into moving to Venus. Mitch wakes up one day to find his identity erased, but he still has his skills and starts using them to not only find out what happened but to help the revolutionists with their plan.
The Long Run by Daniel Keys Moran –
Trent is the last of Earth’s telepaths (latent telepathy in his case) after a massacre orchestrated by the Peacekeepers rids the world of them. Treat is an engineered human who becomes a cyberthief intent on taking down the military force dominating the world. He teams up with another telepath and his old crew for quite the adventure. Trent kind of makes me think of Case from Neuromancer.
Signal to Noise by Eric S. Nylund
Cryptographer, Jack Potter, works for the highest bidder–legal or not. This is one of those somewhat hard sci-fi books that’s full of cyber theft, espionage, and shady aliens. The problems come into play when Jack begins trading information with aliens who are a little too happy to deal with humans. Then, the con really starts.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I don’t like Tolkien (but I’ve read the books). A kinder, gentler heist, but a heist all the same, and I don’t care what you say. This was a damn heist. You know it. I know it. That’s all I have to say here. Let’s move on.
God Stalk by P.C. Hodgell
God Stalk follows Jame, a woman who has amnesia (except the amnesia works kind of stupid and is just obviously a plot device as needed) and Penari, a thief. They live in a world described as “god-infested.” Jame (who also has a strong moral compass and sense of honor despite even going as far as to join a Thieves Guild) manages to find a lot of excitement in their “god-infested” city, especially when she takes up a daring task.
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
The Ketty Jay is manned by Captain Frey and his band of degenerate misfits. They do various things from robberies to whatever the hell else they think will annoy the law. Frey and friends find themselves targeted when a heist goes extremely wrong, and then, suddenly, it’s not so fun to be the outlaws anymore. This kind of makes me think of Firefly in terms of setting and storytelling.
Twinborn Trilogy by J.S. Morin
Pirate ships. Fire. Antics. This probably has heist/con-like elements more so than being a straight up heist/com. The premise of this book says that our dreams are actually real, alternate, magical realities and tells us what happens when these two worlds get a little too close for two people. Did I mention there were pirate ships and fire? You can’t go wrong there.
Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison
James Bolivar DiGriz alias The Stainless Steel Rat alias Slippery Jim should’ve had a place on The Weasels list and/The Ace list, but I didn’t think about him until a friend and I started talking about this series. DiGriz does a little bit of everything–master thief, master martial artist, master con artist, master… you get the point. In his mind, he’s providing a service to the populace by keeping them entertained with his antics.
Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
If Jane Austen wrote a heist novel with magic, I’m sure this what you’d get. In this world magic is known as “glamour” and its users “glamourists.” I actually found this book through my mother who is bookish, too, while I was on hiatus from the site last year. This hiatus including me spending a lot of time with my mom, and this was one of the books she was reading at the time. I don’t think I got a chance to read the ending, though, because I can’t remember how this ends. Two glamourists, Jane and Vincent, are robbed by corsairs. Vincent ain’t having that, and they concoct a heist to get their money back. Also, this is not the first book in the series. I’m glad I couldn’t tell and my mom kept quiet. I would’ve died.