Among Thieves – Douglas Hulick (Tale of the Kin #1)

Among Thieves written by Douglas Hulick came out in April 2011 and I have been dying to read it since, but it was forced back by the rest of the to-read pile I was trying to catch up with.

A few days ago, however, I decided to sod said pile and plucked Among Thieves from the shelves. Having just read a book that left me with mixed feelings and being assured that Among Thieves would be right up my street, I thought there was no better time to get to know Drothe and go visit Ildrecca. And I was right, because I absolutely adored it.

Drothe is a Nose and a damn good one at that. But that also makes him a scoundrel, a thief, a spy, and a myriad of other things besides. And yet, despite all that, Drothe is an immediately loveable character: clever, witty, and honourable (despite himself at times). For all his flaws, I found Drothe to be unbelievably easy to grow attached to. Whether it is through the splendid first person narrative, which plunges us into Drothe’s normality, or simply the brilliance of his character, I was happy to have him as a guide through the streets of Ildrecca.

Ildrecca is a large city, of which we but get a glimpse at during Among Thieves as we visit only certain areas. It is teeming with life, warm and old. It feels of a cross in between towns in Southern Italy and a fantastical somewhere else. It makes Ildrecca a wonderful fantasy setting. Seeing the place through Drothe’s eyes, as he casually goes about his business, only helped to make it more alive with the sounds, sights, and smells of a real city. It’s easy to picture things, down to the food they are eating (and damnit sometimes, I wouldn’t have minded joining in on their meals!).

Ildrecca is real. It feels real and it reads real. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Hulick went to take long walks there before he put it down from pen to paper. It’s one of the most palpable cities I have read in fantasy in a long time and it definitely was one of the key elements that helped draw me in.

For Drothe, everything just starts with a missing item, but to find it, he sticks his nose in things he normally would have left alone—and for good reason. As the stakes spiral higher, Drothe has to race against time and an ever growing list of enemies to keep himself, and those he cares for, out of harm’s way.

I won’t say much about the supporting cast, mainly to keep spoilers to a minimum, but what I will say is that they made for a very colourful bunch. From Drothe’s “Degan” friend who is, and knows, more than he lets on, to the other Kin members we encounter—some good, some bad, but most of them sitting somewhere in the middle—they make for very believable inhabitants of Ildrecca.

Hulick’s writing might not be full of as many sweeping descriptions as some expect in fantasy novels, but it is truly efficient. Ildrecca comes to life effortlessly and his characters are ready to jump out of the pages. Fight scenes are particularly epic and despite a blow-for-blow account of what is happening, Hulick manages to convey the speed of the fight and its urgency. We feel Drothe’s desperation and his exhaustion. Nothing is overdone, nothing is over-written, and everything is a perfect balance of action, description and characterisation.

I have little to say about the plot, apart from the fact that it was amazing. It had me wondering, guessing, and worrying. The blurb at the back of the book almost gives too much away, but as I had forgotten it by the time I came to read the book, I was all the more swept away by what was happening, wondering what was going to happen next every time I turned a page.

All in all, Among Thieves was all the cloak-and-dagger movies I was raised on bundled up into one and chucked into a fantasy setting. And it more than worked, it was amazing.

This is a book for anyone who would rather have a grey main character instead of a knight in shining armour. It’s for people who want mysteries and tales of adventure and who want to be swept away effortlessly to an exciting somewhere else. It will appeal to all those who, like me, love exhilarating sword fights and forbidden magic. Yes, Among Thieves is a fun read, but it also is so much more than that: it is a brilliant book that will grip and never let you go until you have turned the last page.

And even then, all you’ll want is for Sworn in Steel, due to come out in April 2012, to be already sitting on your bookshelf.



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