Stealing Life

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 29 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

An old book repackaged in such a way as to hide its origins in a creaky shared-world fantasy setting, something which I'm not sure does any favours either to readers, or to Johnston's subsequent evolution as a writer. But I feel that by further publicising that sentiment I'd only exacerbate the issue, and that would be unfair to a good chap, hence quietly dropping the review on here only.
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Yeah, I'm a sucker for heist novels. This one was pretty good too: I love Nicco as the archetypal cunning thief and there's some great moments watching his con artistry unfold. The world building is great, the fusion of magic and technology working brilliantly alongside the gritty underworld we spend most of the action focusing on. Sure, I would have preferred more of the book to focus on one of the big heists as opposed to Nicco getting tangled up in a revolution (as much fun as that was to read about), but I think that was more to do with my expectations coming into the book rather than anything else. I look forward to whatever future adventures Nicco has, because after that ending, there's no way we're not getting more of his story.
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Stealing Life is filled with twists and turns, set in a world that encompasses both advanced technology and magic. It follows a thief called Nicco Salarum, who just wants to get back to his life of crime and be left in peace. Having found himself in debt to one of the city’s biggest mobsters, Nicco does what he can to pay off this debt and get away from the anvil that looms over his head. In his efforts, he finds himself making up for mistakes and chasing down an artefact to keep himself and the one he loves safe. Little does he know, what he thought would be a straight-forward job turns into a political scandal that leaves the world as he knows it hanging in the balance, and Nicco has to walk the fine line to avoid sparking another war that would bring the peace crashing to an explosive halt. Stealing Life is thrilling, witty, and filled with so many turns you’ll find yourself chasing your own tail. Unveiled like a mystery novel, this book delicately leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to scoop up and hurriedly start searching for the next.
A full discussion of this novel can be found on my Wordpress site.
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This is... very interesting, to say the least. In the final third, it gets to a genuinely interesting twist that, if it had been introduced sooner, would have given this a leg up. That said, it’s clearly a very early writing attempt with Johnston still getting his sea legs under him. This apparently was part of a shared universe in the original edition, and underwent edits to remove references to the shared universe in this edition. Apparently no further edits were done, which is surprising to me. (The fact that all three of your female characters are whores and one of them is protagonist’s mother and the other is his love interest is not a point in this book’s favor.)

Got an ARC (though I don’t know that it could be called that because of the previous release) of this, it’s out November 1st. If you really like Johnston’s work, and want to see what his early work looked like, go for it! As a revised novel.... not the best thing I’ve read this year but certainly not the worst.
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Enjoyable science fiction/fantasy caper that gets bogged down by too much exposition. There is too much political, social and geographical information to take in that it needs to be delivered in long infodumps.

There is a current trend to mix magic with science fiction (in this case a steampunk aesthetic but Alex White's new book A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe attempts to do the same with space opera). This is a difficult genre mash to pull of and is, like most others, only partially successful. That said, the main character was fun to spend time with and the action is well handled.
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While reading the book’s description the word that caught my attention was magic. I love stories about magic so I gave this book a try.

The story is set in a city called Azbatha, in a fictional world where technology and magic exist side by side. There are so many places mentioned in the story but most of them are just that, names, without context.
I felt lost sometimes among all this information. A map would have been useful. 

Nick Salarum is a thief, a very good one. He is already in trouble but after another heist going wrong he is even more in it. And well, obviously things always get bad before they get worse.

A wizard wants him to steal a magical thingy for him. But things rarely are that easy. So Nicco ends up in an even bigger trouble. 

I liked the plot very much, it was easy to follow.

Thank you NetGalley and Abbadon Books for this arc.
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Nicco Salarum considers himself to be a gentleman and highly successful burglar. Except for the fact that his last heist did not go well, when given the choice of killing a security guard or ditching an expensive shipment he had just stolen, he opted for the latter. This decision has been less than well received by a local mob boss, Wallus Bazhanka, who Nicco had just stolen the consignment for. Now Nicco is more than occupied by having to pay back the shipment’s worth through a prolonged tenure to Bazhanka.

So when a magus, called Xandus, miraculously makes Nicco an offer that seems too good to be true (an enormous sum of money which can buy his freedom from Bazhanka’s servitude) how can Nicco refuse? But by accepting, Nicco only digs himself even further in Bazhanka’s debt in a way he could not have possibly foreseen.

Nicco Salarum is effectively a reincarnation of Slippery Jim diGriz aka the Stainless Steel Rat, the anti-hero criminal of a series of highly entertaining sci-fi novels by Harry Harrison. This means that Stealing Life is equally as readable because Nicco succeeds in getting himself into some terrible scrapes and has to use every ounce of wit and skill at his disposal to get out of them.

Antony Johnston delivers sharp, witty and brilliantly observed prose. One escapade flows into the next and reads in a way that makes you feel as if you’re moving through the scene. This is not surprising as Johnston is well versed in graphic novels and you could visualise the story in panels of pictures. Stealing Life would certainly make a terrific film.

Johnston blends pure fantasy with recognisable technology and policing methods. The outrageous works seamlessly and hand-in-glove with the everyday. So for someone who wants to try some science fiction or fantasy writing, Stealing Life is a good place to start.

I really enjoyed this romp of epic proportions, so I do hope this is only the start of Nicco’s colourful exploits. He’s not the sort of guy to stay out of trouble for long. I also suspect his good friend, cum love interest, Tabathinna, or Tabby for short, is sizing up to be a permanent and worthy partner in crime.
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This is a great, fast paced science fantasy adventure that I sped through about a thief called Nicco who has to steal a magical necklace to get himself out of debt from a mob boss. I did think that some parts of the world building felt problematic in their lack of depth and Nicco sometimes seemed one step behind in working things out. But I did really enjoy the mix of future tech and magic and I liked the style of writing. the way it jumped ahead and gave us glimpses of what happened next before showing us HOW it happened. Overall this is a fun and light science fantasy that I really enjoyed reading and would recommend to anyone looking for a quick and engrossing adventure.
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What a great book! I really enjoyed this fun and thrilling adventure about the exploits of Nicco, a thief who is in over his head with the local mob boss and so foolishly agrees to steal a necklace for a wizard...this is where his troubles really begin.
I enjoyed the world building and the political fighting, and while some of it worked better than others, I particularly enjoyed the airship scene. The characters were all good, and there was a nice amount of witty banter.  It wasn't a big, deep, meaningful read, but it was a lot of fun and sometimes meaningful literature is not what you're after in a book. I also liked the fact it is a fantasy book, with wizards, magic, and strange animals, but I'd happily recommend this to my mother, for example, who doesn't usually like fantasy because of 'all the silly made up stuff'- I feel like she would still get on with this. 
I hadn't realised it was *that* Anthony Johnston until I finished the book, having read Wasteland avidly and watched some of Dead Space being played (but being too scared to play it myself), it was a pleasant surprise and he certainly has varied talents! I'm grateful to Netgalley for the free review copy and the opportunity to read and enjoy it.
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From Goodreads:
Nicco Salarum is a good thief, a stealthy gentleman burglar who makes his dubious living on the rough streets of Azbatha.
Nicknamed the 'Pit-On-Stilts' - a dangerous, overcrowded and corrupt city in the island nation of Turith. But Nicco is in trouble after he ditched an expensive stolen shipment rather than kill a security guard. That shipment 'belonged' to a local mob boss, and now Nicco must repay what the shipment was worth.
So when Xandus, a magus from the other side of Turith, offers Nicco a seemingly easy task - steal the so-called 'magic necklace' of a visiting dignitary - for an enormous amount of money, Nicco thinks his prayers have been answered.
But the job is not all it seems, and soon Nicco is Turith's most wanted fugitive. Where has Xandus disappeared to? Why is the dignitary suddenly on his deathbed? And what does all this have to do with a foreign city's impending religious revolution?

The blend of magic and technology gave the world of Turith an interesting vibe, almost like a steam punk feeling. Tech like flatvids, paypods, and holovids share the world with enchanted orbs, thinmen, and magical necklaces. The world building was strong, I got a good sense of each land's culture and traditions. I just wish I could have had a map so I could see the borders and know which cities were where. In the beginning of the book, the lands, cities, and peoples are hard to sort out. I liked Nicco, he was smart, resourceful guy. The book was fast paced but easy to follow. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.
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This is a soft science fiction book that is actually a caper story.  As science fiction stories go, there is not much science; it's more of a science fantasy story.  I enjoyed this book and had no problem staying interested.  It was written by the author of "Atomic Blonde" and this initially made me want to read the book.

Nicco Salarum is a thief in the fictional world of Azbatha; he is approached by a wizard named Xundus (yes there are wizards in this book) to steal a precious necklace from his rival, Werrdun, the governor of Hurrunda.  The caper begins; Nicco accepts an apparently impossible task of stealing the necklace and then, quite cleverly, pulls off the caper.  After he is paid, he learns that the necklace kept Werrdun alive (he is 90+ years old) and his death will bring political instability to Hurrunda.  So, the powers that be put pressure on him, and to survive, he must steal the necklace back. 

The plot has twists and turns and, although extremely clever, Nicco gets in some jams he has a hard time getting out.  It is an enjoyable read that science fiction fans will enjoy.  Recommended 4/5 stars.  Read this and other reviews on upcoming books at
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I most recently came across Antony Johnston as the author of the graphic novel that was made into the movie Atomic Blonde and he's also the writer of another graphic novel series (The Fuse) where I've enjoyed what I've read so far. As a result, I had fairly high hopes of Stealing Life but sadly it didn't quite live up to them. 

It's a fairly unchallenging heist story, set in a world where magic and technology butt heads. Our protagonist makes a living as a thief but recently got in a mob boss's bad books for not killing a security guard and is currently scurrying around to make as much money as possible to pay said mob boss off. That's part of the reason why he (Nicco) takes on a job he might otherwise have turned down, working for a wizard to steal a magic amulet from the leader of a neighbouring nation. Naturally, things are not quite what they seem and Nicco finds himself up to his neck in plot and counter-plot, eventually helping thwart a revolution. 

One thing I thought was noticeable is that all but one of the named female characters in Nicco's world are sex workers. There's no judgement attached to that, at least, but for me it shows a degree of lack of imagination. There's also less attention given to the world-building than I might have liked, leaving me struggling to separate out the countries involved in the author's world. 

All in all, it was enjoyable enough but makes me wonder where the same depth of characterisation I've seen in the graphic novels this writer is producing disappeared to - it could have been so much better.  

I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley on the condition of giving an honest review.
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Slealing Life by Antony Johnston, a futuristic sci-fi/fantasy novel. Well written and starts off strong. Nicco is looking to make a big score in order to pay off that debt to the gangster and then things go wrong...
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An interesting, and sometimes uncomfortable, blend of sword-and-sorcery (thieves, wizards, city-states controlled by criminals) with a futuristic setting. For a long while, I kept stumbling over the futuristic parts, because the essence of the book is so sword-and-sorcery in tone, feel, and trope. 

The main character is a thief with some principles, specifically against killing, which lands him in trouble and in debt to a mob boss. This gives us a highly motivated protagonist in a dynamic situation, and things keep getting worse and worse for him, while the stakes for him and everyone else escalate - a good basis for compelling fiction. 

Ultimately, he's not able to purge the corruption in the system, only to minimise its impact on innocents. But he does so with intelligence and daring, at personal cost, without ever blaming anyone else for his misfortune, and that makes up to a large degree for the cynicism and darkness of the setting. It's maybe a little worldweary to be fully noblebright, but it's tending strongly enough in that direction that I enjoyed it considerably.
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Stealing Life is set in the future world of Inan. Nicco Salarum is a thief who owes a sizeable debt to the local mobster. In his attempts to pay his dues, he gets drawn into a coup that could destabilize a foreign city-state. In order to undo his mistake, Nicco has to navigate worlds of technological advancement and wizardry.
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Nicco, a very good thief, is paid to steal a magical necklace.  Then he must steal it back...I enjoyed the world Johnston created.  His characters are well developed.  And the story flowed smoothly.
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Johnston, who is best known for his graphic novels, including one that was turned into the movie Atomic Blonde, offers us a science fiction fantasy featuring an intrepid thief, a debt to a gangster, and a mission that could change the fate of the civilized world.  Set in a future world Inan that includes magic, fantastical creatures, rebel soldiers, and technological marvels like entropy guns and thinmen (nearly invincible cyborgs), Stealing Life is a fun adventure that will remind you of many science fiction adventures.  Many thanks to the publisher Abaddon for providing a copy for review.
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'Salarum! Salarum! Salarum! I WANT MY MONEY!'

Nicco Salarum grew up in a brothel, lives in an abandoned slaughterhouse, and spends a good deal of this novel getting chased by golems. He doesn't have the best of luck.

In debt to the biggest mob boss in town, he needs money fast. He gets an offer from a wizard: steal a magical necklace from a visiting diplomat. Simple? Not in the least. Poor Nicco is quickly pulled into an international scandal that has him chased through alley, ocean, and jungle. Muscled mobsters. Flying airships. Carnivorous beasts aplenty. And an underground of gritty characters who know how to get themselves out of trouble, usually by blaming the guy next to him...

Johnston's style is light. No gore, just action, dare-devil escapes and some good stealth. Is it bad that I kept envisioning Simon Pegg as the likable, yet sarcastic Nicco? But maybe throw in a little Mission Impossible to get himself out of trouble...

I really didn’t know where Stealing Life was going to turn to next, but loved every shift of the plot. A fun romp. An excellent adventure.
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