In Ildrecca, the capital of the Dorminikan Empire, there is, and always has been, a dark empire thriving beneath the ruling one: the criminal underworld of the people who lovingly call themselves the Kin. Drothe is a Nose — an information gatherer — who has spent most of his life as one of the Kin. Drothe works for one of the many crime lords, but smuggles holy relics on the side. Things go bad fast when Drothe’s boss sends him into Ten Ways to investigate rumors of rival gangs’ aggressions. Of all the seedy cordons in Ildrecca that the Kin control, Ten Ways is the most run-down, dangerous, and fiercely independent. Ten Ways is also the one place Drothe hoped he would never return to. While on this mission, Drothe’s self-interests conflict with his full-time job and he ends up in possession of an ancient holy book that contains secrets that can destroy the empire or grant the power to rule all.
If you combined the movies Gangs of New York and The Usual Suspects, turned that into a fantasy story, and then add just a smidgen of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, you’d end-up with something close to Among Thieves.
The story is told in the first person which, When done right, makes the reader’s connection to the story more intimate. However, it does take an exceptionally talented author to pull it off. The point-of-view character has to keep the reader’s interest throughout the story, and the writing has to be clever enough that we learn all we need to know about the setting and the other characters without losing the sense that we’re only seeing things through the narrator’s eyes. Mr. Hulick makes this seem easy. He builds a hard world of shadowed back-alleys, cruel enemies, dangerous allies, and too few trusted friends, all revolving around Drothe.
Hulick also does a bang-up job with the other characters, which must be the most difficult part of creating a story in the first person perspective. I especially liked the elite mercenary, Bronze Degan, who serves as the brawn to Drothe’s brains. Their friendship made me miss some of my old high school buddies.
Hulick’s skillful use of street slang, or thieves’ cant, is a blast. It clearly sets the Kin apart from the “lighters” — upright citizens — and brings so much color into the tale that other similar fantasy stories seem lame in comparison. The dialog of the best gangster movies is part of why they’re so much fun to watch and it’s about time that the same concept was truly embraced when writing roguish fantasy characters. (“Forget about it.”) The language really brings the characters to life.
One of the most exciting things is Hulick’s concept. As the complete title suggests, Among Thieves: A Tale of the Kin, is the first of a series of stand-alone books that won’t necessarily be about Drothe or any of the other characters in this installment. Hulick has created a criminal underworld that is ripe for rogues to pursue adventurous exploits.
Among Thieves is full of twists and turns that spring from conspiracies within conspiracies. For every wily move Drothe makes, he only puts himself, and sometimes his few friends, more at risk, as the stakes become higher than anyone could have imagined. The fate of a kingdom comes to rest on the honor of one thief among many thieves.
Mr. Hulick, in the tradition of the Kin, please accept me into your organization. In this way, you cannot dust me without just cause and I cannot betray you without knowing that I face the ultimate retribution. But I’ll also get to be brought along for your forthcoming adventures as one of the Kin.