I spend a lot of time in my car. Rather than listen to NPR or the radio, I tend to listen to audio books on my e-reader. So while, I haven't technically read these books, I still have discovered more than one gem that I would like to share with my readers. So with out further adieu my thoughts on Douglas Hulick's debut novel Among Thieves.
Let me just start out by saying that Among Thieves is told in first person. And in some ways, this places Among Thieves more in the camp of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, than Brent Weeks' Night Angel series. As a fan of Harry Dresden, I was excited to see a traditional other world fantasy told in similar fashion. But Drothe, Hulick's protagonist is no Harry Dresden.
Drothe is not a man of any exceptional talents. He is clever enough, a proficient swordsman, and is good at his job. As a "Nose", he is responsible for gathering information for the bosses of the expansive network of Ildrecca's criminal empire. It's his work on the side, selling religious relics to the highest bidder that gets him in trouble. Luckily for Drothe, he has a wide network of friends who prop up the inadequacies in his skill set. Hulick does an exceptional job of fleshing out these secondary characters, none of them are there simply for the benefit they provide for Drothe's increasingly difficult situation as he manages to be at odds not only with his own boss, the volitile "Upright Man" Nico, but the mysterious Gray Princes who manipulate the underworld from behind the scenes, and the Empire that rules the city of Ildrecca where the story is set. Each character is framed by their relationship to Drothe and feel like real people with personalities and prejudices beyond their contribution to Drothe's attempts to recover the stolen relic.
Drothe's likability really shines in his interactions with others. Whether it is with the "ears" that provide him with the information he gathers for Nico, or his hostile sister the countess, or his best friend Bronze Deegan who provides much of the muscle in Drothe's fight to stay one step ahead of the countless factions chasing the missing relic, Drothe's good nature, humor, and skewed sense of honor and generosity shine. Even the villains are well drawn and rounded. You'll find very little mustache twirling here.
Drothe's relationship with Bronze Deegan is the high point of the novel for me. It felt very genuine and was full of the highs and lows that any real friendship possesses. Drothe like many of us, discovers the dangers and consequences of taking those closest to us for granted, and I look forward to more fallout from the conclusion.
Well drawn characters, and a engaging protagonist are not all Among Thieves has worth recommending. The setting of Ildrecca feels like a real place, with a history and flavor all it's own. Hulick wisely chooses to limit his world building only when it serves to better inform the story and info dumping is usually so well placed as to be largely seamless with the narrative.
After doing a little reading on the author's website, I discovered that the genesis of the story came in part from a book on Thieves Cant Hulick purchased years ago. That discovery is evident in the language used by the characters in the novel and lends an authentic feel that adds rather than distracts from the story as a whole. The explanation of the terminology was only used in service to the story and much like the aforementioned world building flowed naturally and never felt forced.
I could go on. The combat scenes were well written and informed by the author's knowledge of Western European Martial Arts. The magic of the world was consistent, mysterious, and never seemed thrown in just because this was a fantasy novel. Pacing and plotting were well considered and even with the myriad of twists and complications, things never got so convoluted that I got the sense that Hulick was trying to hard.
My only quibble with the book was the protagonists over reliance on stimulants. Not that drug use doesn't fit with the world or the character, but rather that Drothe never seemed to pay any price for his dependency. I have a feeling this will be addressed in later installments in the series. Installments that I can't wait to get my hands or ears on.