Douglas Hulick – Among Thieves

There is no honour among thieves… 

Ildrecca is a dangerous city, if you don’t know what you’re doing. It takes a canny hand and a wary eye to run these streets and survive. Fortunately, Drothe has both. He has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers from the dirtiest of alleys to the finest of neighbourhoods. Working for a crime lord, he finds and takes care of trouble inside his boss’s organization – while smuggling relics on the side. 

But when his boss orders Drothe to track down whoever is leaning on his organization’s people, he stumbles upon a much bigger mystery. There’s a book, a relic any number of deadly people seem to be looking for – a book that just might bring down emperors and shatter the criminal underworld. 

A book now inconveniently in Drothe’s hands…

A confession: I have a weakness for rogues. Mercedes Lackey’s Skif, Brent Weeks’ Azoth and Durzo, Feist’s Jimmy the Hand, Fiona Patton’s Brax and Spar and Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards, I love them all. I even have a weak spot for Baldur’s Gate’s Imoen, however whiny she could be, and of course in my role playing days I usually played a rogue. So when I first read about Douglas Hulick’s debut novel Among Thieves, I was intrigued and I couldn’t wait to read it. And yes, I loved Drothe, its main character, but more importantly I loved the story and the writing as well. Among Thieves is an amazing debut.

Drothe is a great character, who is that rare-plumed bird: an honourable thief. I love that once he picked his cause, he stuck to it, whatever heartbreaking choices he had to make. And he does make some heartbreaking decisions. I really liked his friendship with Degan, or Bronze Degan as he’s officially known. It’s an easy, comfortable partnership and you can imagine it having taken some tough knocks in the past and surviving and doing so again in the future. Except that Hulick adds a twist to it, that leaves everything up in the air. Drothe’s protective attitude to his tenants and his sister, though the latter relationship is also somewhat adversarial, stresses the idea that Drothe has a keen sense of honour and responsibility.

The book has some nice twists in the story that make it more than just another thieves’ story. Of course going into those would be giving major plot spoilers, so I won’t, but suffice it to say, some of them I didn’t see coming at all. Another part of the writing I really enjoyed was the banter between the characters and the thieves’ cant Hulick includes. The book has genuinely funny dialogues and lines, which had me chuckling out loud, and the cant gives the Kin and their society a flavour of reality. I liked that Hulick generally didn’t explain cant, unless it was really long or complicated and then it was only translated in conversations with someone from outside the Kin. It implies a trust that the reader is smart enough to understand, without being taken by the hand, which I appreciated.

The only quibble I might have with the book is that at times there is some infodumpy worldbulding, but I found I didn’t really care as it was either done in a really cool way, making it less dumpy, or the story swept me away. An example of the former is the start of chapter four, where Drothe almost seems to break the fourth wall, as he starts explaining what he is; the tense of the story shifts from past to present. It’s the only part of the book, at least it’s the only part that stands out in memory as such, to do so. I found it a nice way to give the reader a lot of info quickly and give them the idea that Drothe is telling them the story over a cup of coffee at the Cafe Lumar.

Among Thieves is a fantastic read. Once the story started, it never stopped and its pace never flagged. The only thing that brought it to a halt was the ending, which was well done, but I was bummed nonetheless as I wanted more! I really didn’t want this book to end. And that, to me, is one of the hallmarks of a good book. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and so far it’s a strong contender for debut of the year for me!

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