The Job is the latest in Marshall Ryan Maresca’s expansive sequence. A sequel to Lady Wardrobe, which I said a lot of very nice things about a little while ago, it focuses on the further adventures of the brothers. Thieves, conmen, killers, and, surprisingly, general good sorts. This time around, the and their crew of loveable miscreants are doing their best to make an honest living – making bread, selling cheese, and staying out of trouble. It can’t last, of course, and they’re swiftly up to their necks in more trouble than ever. From there it’s a rip-roaring ride into an adventure involving drug smugglers, sinister conspiracies, mysterious allies, explosive , and some good con games.
As usual, I need to take a minute and talk about the setting. is a city at the centre of a federated kingdom, a melting pot where various ethnicities, religions, political groups and nationalities all come together in the hope of making a good life – or at least making some money. By now, the teeming streets of the city are an old friend, the blend of river and spice and sweat that marks out the home neighbourhood of North strangely familiar. The gang rivalries in street with no police presence have the authenticity of long standing, and the patina of the neighbourhoods is gently established. are just trying to get to their job on the docks, or open their small business, and you can see the character of a neighbourhood on the edge of something new. Whether that’s a descent back into gang warfare and decay, or a shift toward more gentility and gentrification Is another matter. But I’ll say this – North lives and breathes as much as its characters do, a vividly imagined backdrop for its citizens to live and work and scheme and fight and, yes, die in.
Which brings us to the brothers. I love these two. Asti, the fighter, the killer, the man fighting desperately to put aside the traumatic pieces of a shattered past, is driven by demons he can’t seem to exorcise. His pain is virulent and fierce, and looking through his eyes you can see that he’s holding himself together with both hands. While, also, yes, planning complicated heists and trickery and the odd on-the-spot escape plan. But there’ real emotional depth here, and growth, as Asti tries to come to terms with who he is now. This does, admittedly, have a tendency to display as a complex for sacrificing himself to save his friend, the ones he wants to have the normal life he feels he can never have. Though they tend to swiftly snap him out of it, this drive, this desire, this condition – it keeps him real to us. Asti isn’t just his pain, but also his love for his friends and his family, his courage and general decency. He’s a person, and we live his tragedies as much as his triumphs.
And then there’s . Inventor, savant inventor and family man. has a penchant for elaborate traps, and exciting gadgets with the potential to explode, or spray acid, or vent poisonous gas. Or maybe this time it’s a lock which doesn’t use a key, but some combination of spinning tumblers. Who knows? In his field, he’s as brilliant as Asti, if not quite as fluid-thinking on his feet. But his relationship with his wife grounds him; their day to day gentle affection, and the tension that arises when he steps off the straight path to respectability every so often in aid of a good cause, are an absolute delight. They’re instantly recognisable, emotionally honest, relatable, and real. Twinned with obvious love for his brother, and deep affection for the band of good-hearted scoundrels they’ve put together, it gives the story a real emotional heart, one that makes us care about the brothers, about their crew, and about their goals.
The crew are multifarious, and growing outward in their own ways. Some are getting an education, and thinking about leaving the crew and crime life of the neighbourhood behind. Others are finding romance in unexpected places, or finally getting the chance to do what they’ve always wanted for themselves. There’s a sense that the crew, like the neighbourhood, is on the cusp of something new, creating the wave of potential but not yet quite sure which way it’ll break. Still, all your old friends are here. I have a particular soft spot for Helene, expert sharpshooter and now successful charcuterie owner, and her brother Julien, who can throw men around like rag dolls, but really just wants to talk to customers about the different kinds of cheese. But they’re all here – faces, spotters, fast talkers, muscle, wonder-workers. You’ll know them all, and if you have a favourite, I’m sure you’ll be as delighted to see them as I was.
It’s also worth mentioning the Thorn, who has a series of his own in the . He pops up here, in this grimier world of street crime and neighbourhood grudges, and adds a dash of colour. Watching the not-entirely-honest crew from Alley getting to grips with a vigilante who has a rather stricter interpretation of the law than they do, as well as magical powers and a smart mouth, is a delight, and arguably worth the price of admission on its own. I won’t go into detail for the sake of spoiler, but the sections with the Thorn involved were a great deal of fun to read.
The story is, to sum up, a page turner. It’s filled with the trademark plans, which have a tendency to work like clockwork, right up until the point where they spring a gear, and everything falls into chaos. It has duels, and some genuinely impressive magic. It has narrative tension drawn as taut as a garotte, as well as revelations which will make you gasp in delighted surprise (well, I did, anyway!). It’s a con game, and a fight for survival, and a crime story, and a tale of a family looking out for its neighbours, and I devoured it whole over the course of an evening, utterly unwilling to put it down. I suspect, if you’re this deep into the world of , you’ll feel the same way. This one is great, fellow fans of . It’s absolutely worth your time, and I encourage you to stop reading this review, and go pick up a coy right away.