Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
A Tale of the Kin, Volume One.
Published by Tor UK, April 2011
ISBN: 978 0 330 53620 2
Review by Mark Yon
Drothe is a crook and a murderer living in the city of Ildrecca. As a member of the underworld collectively called the Kin, he runs a difficult life between meeting the needs of his gangland bosses and his own survival. He’s a ‘Nose’- paid to notice things in the city region of Ten Ways, analyse and put things together, keep an ear to the ground and pass on concerns to those who should be told.
This is a lively and very competent debut. Rising above what could’ve been a difficult sell – a man whose life revolves around deception and murder is not often a character to like – but Douglas manages this difficult balancing act pretty well. For Drothe is an honourable thief, a murderer with scruples.
Mind you, he’s not the only one. Drothe’s friend since childhood, Bronze Degan, is a skilful fighter from a group with a fearsome reputation: something which Degan himself lives up to admirably.
So in this complex lifestyle of theirs, Among Thieves is told in the first-person from the viewpoint of Drothe.
There’s some nice world building. Amongst other elements, the Empire has an original set up in that the Emperor has his soul divided into three different personalities, each taking turns to rule but effectively leading to one eternal leadership until the Emperor is deposed or goes insane. There are some who feel the current Emperor, Emperor Stephen, is in need of eliminating.
This one rattled along nicely from revelation to revelation. We find that items are discovered that may have consequences for all of those involved. Drothe and Degan engage in a pact that will have implications for them both, and may indeed be connected to a plot to kill the Emperor. Unrest in the Kin-run areas of town lead Drothe and his compatriots being involved in a series of street fights, setting and avoiding traps for the unwary and trying to avoid being both betrayed and the betrayers of all they hold dear.
Parts of the book therefore move from fight to fight as Drothe tries to work out what is going on. The fight scenes are vivid and very well done, and should satisfy any fan seeking fast paced action, especially when Drothe himself becomes a target, for a reason he doesn’t know.
The ending is apt and just. There are some nice points made that will no doubt be expanded on in the next book.
This one seems to have gone by unnoticed a little, which is a shame, for it’s a debut that reads very well indeed. Though the reader may have a few qualms over an anti-hero whose lifestyle is based on dealing with torture and violence, Drothe has a bit more to him than you might at first suspect and the underworld of Ildrecca is appropriately murky. Think The Sopranos in a Fantasy setting.
A great page turner.
Mark Yon, August 2011