Friday, 20 May 2011
‘Among Thieves’ – Douglas Hulick (Tor UK)
Not these days though. Thanks to online publishing schedules and bloggers pointing at what excites them, I now know exactly what I want to read and how long I have to wait for it. How cool is that? There are no surprises anymore but it’s a small price to pay I think :o)
Which brings me onto Douglas Hulick’s ‘Among Thieves’ (in a slightly roundabout way, sorry about that)...
Praise for Hulick’s debut has been popping up all over the internet for a while now and all the good things being said (by a lot of people whose opinions I trust) highlighted this title as one that I’d definitely be picking up. Not only that but it’s about thieves and we all know that thieves in a fantasy setting are always cool, no question about it. Yet again, it has taken me longer than I’d planned to pick this one but I did and I have to say that all the nice things being said about ‘Among Thieves’ are bang on the money. Could this be my debut of the year? Quite possibly...
The city of Ildrecca is a very dangerous place if you don’t know the ins and outs of its criminal fraternity. One wrong move on these mean streets and you’ll be getting a visit from an Agonyman before you know it... Fortunately for Drothe, he knows exactly what he is doing (having worked the streets for years) and has made quite a nice living for himself rooting out trouble within his boss’ organisation whilst smuggling Imperial relics on the side.
Drothe’s boss wants him to find out who is leaning on his people in a sensitive area of the city, nothing too arduous... at least that’s what Drothe thinks before he really gets into the thick of things. All of a sudden the mystery widens to include a trail of dead bodies and a relic sought by any number of people with plans to bring down an empire and take power for themselves. Drothe soon finds himself right at the heart of a shadowy war fought in dark alleyways and rooftops. No surprise there, Drothe has found himself in possession of the relic that everyone is looking for...
‘Among Thieves’ is a sumptuous slice of the dark underbelly of a city that seems plenty dark enough to start off with. There is a lot here to get your teeth into and if you’re anything like me you’ll really enjoy the experience. What we’re looking at here is an almost perfect blend of dank and gloomy atmosphere along with a searing dose of swashbuckling action and a lead character who’s a lot of fun to hang out with.
It’s a shame then that the book itself makes things harder than they perhaps needed to be in terms of being able to get into it right from the start. The chief culprit here is Hulick’s use of ‘thieves cant’ in a large chunk of the dialogue. I loved the air of authenticity that this ‘cant’ gave to the proceedings; you really get a feel that the ‘Kin’ (Thieves Guild to the likes of you and I) are a well defined group in their own right just by having a few well chosen words scattered here and there. What I wasn’t so keen on though was the fact that you’re never entirely sure what particular phrases actually meant... I kept finding myself thinking things along the lines of ‘he said what...?’ and that stopped me really getting to grips with the story at times that felt like it was really important to be fully engaged. Not a huge problem in terms of the book as a whole but one that did rankle from time to time.
Get past this admittedly very small niggle and you’re in for a great read. I guarantee it :o)
You may think that thieves have been done one time too many in fantasy literature (I mean, you do see a lot of them...) I’d disagree and say that so long as a book is written well (or at the very least tries to be a little different) then you can have as many ‘tried and tested’ plot devices as you like. ‘Among Thieves’ may feature some familiar looking characters but I’m pretty certain that you’ve never seen them doing their work in such a downright brutal way. The first chapter alone features a man being tortured and a near drowning! Hulick displays a fine ability to show his readers what life in and around the gutter is really like, nasty and often very short. This very honest and grim atmosphere makes for a read that you can’t help but follow (and feel very glad that you can close the book afterwards and get away, certain characters aren’t that lucky...)
If that wasn’t enough, Hulick furnishes the book with a mystery that is teased out at just the right pace, answering questions whilst asking many more; just the thing to maintain interest and keep readers reading. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things Hulick takes great pleasure in proving you wrong and there are more than a few moments that made me go ‘what the...’ This is all punctuated with moments of fierce action (that are almost cinematic) and, once again, Hulick refuses to pull any punches. If Drothe takes a battering then you’ll know all about it... and so will he. Drothe himself makes for a commanding lead in this piece, a character that doesn’t shy away from what he is and a character you can’t help but root for as a result. Drothe may do things for the wrong reasons but he does want to do the right thing... at least from his point of view.
‘Among Thieves’ is a book that grabs you right from the first page and refuses to let go. In fact, I finished this book a few days ago now and it still hasn’t let go... I’ll have more of this please!
Nine and a Half out of Ten
P.S. I was reading the Tor UK edition, if you're in the US (or if you just like the US cover and want that...) 'Among Thieves' is published by Roc.