Douglas Hulick’s Among Thieves has been highly praised by three of my fellow reviewers and is featured in our Favorite Books of 2011 list, so when I saw that Tantor produced it on audio last month, of course I had to try it. As I expected, it did not disappoint, yet I didn’t love it as much as Greg and Robert did. I have to agree almost completely with what they said about this fun fantasy adventure, though. My lower rating merely reflects my personal taste for this type of tale. Among Thieves is a sword & sorcery mystery set in a decadent city. It could be compared to Scott Lynch’s work or even Fritz Leiber’s LANKHMAR stories except that, though well-written, Among Thieves lacks the high language and humorous philosophical musings that elevate Leiber’s stories above other S & S tales and makes them so appealing to me.
I liked the setting of the city of Ildrecca, a cosmopolitan center with a seedy underside, and the elaborate criminal organization with its own slang and rules of honor. Our hero, Drothe the “nose,” is an honorable thief who has a heart, a sense of loyalty, and a desire to do the right thing for his city. I adored his companion, Bronze Degan, and sometimes wished that the story were not all told from Drothe’s POV so that we could learn more about Degan. I hope future KIN stories will also include this intriguing character. Drothe’s aristocratic sister is another character I’d like to meet again.
I was fascinated by the idea of an emperor who used dark magic to divide his soul into three parts, inadvertently creating his own rivals and producing paranoia. The magic in Drothe’s world is dark and frightening, and I look forward to seeing more of this in future installments.
I did have a couple of issues with Among Thieves. There were so many bumps, ditches, twists and turns in the narrowly-focused linear plot that I sometimes felt like I was running an obstacle course in a tunnel. Whenever Drothe figured something out, or got a step ahead, there’d be a new revelation, or a guy with a sword, right around the corner. Or the ominous voice behind him saying “Not so fast.” (Okay, maybe not exactly that, but something really similar.) I was never sure what was true, or just another red herring, until the very end. I also had a hard time believing the parts of the plot that involved taking oaths. I can’t say more without spoiling things, but I struggled with this. Lastly, there were too many play-by-play descriptions of sword fights for me. But that’s just me.
Other than those minor issues, I enjoyed Hulick’s characters and the world he created and I will certainly be picking up his next TALES OF THE KIN, Sworn in Steel. I’ll be listening to it on audio because I was very pleased with Kirby Heyborne’s narration. He did a great job with all the characters, both male and female, common and aristocratic. You can sample and purchase Among Thieves in downloadable audio format from Tantor or Audible. Last I checked, it was less expensive at Tantor unless you’re going to use an Audible credit.