Among Thieves

Among Thieves, Douglas Hulick

Roc Press, 2011

Imagine yourself next to the pool, at the beach, or on your deck. Envision a frosted, long-necked, dark amber bottle close to one hand, a bowl of tortilla chips and your favorite salsa within reach, and Among Thieves in your other hand—there’s the perfect image of summer. 

Douglas Hulick’s fantasy, the first of series called The Kin (the criminal underworld’s name for itself) has humor, plot twists, mystery and an intriguing set-up.  The first person narrator, Drothe, is our main character, and he has plenty of problems to work out.  Drothe is a low-level criminal working for an Upright Man—a street level crime boss.  Drothe is a spy and an enforcer who does a little work in ancient artifacts on the side.  In the opening few pages, Drothe is caught up in the mystery of a missing artifact and rumors of a new one, not to mention a potential gang war in a section of the city that Drothe wishes never to return to. 

There is plenty of action and plenty of intrigue.  While Drothe has very little magic himself—only one ability passed on to him by his step-father—there is magic aplenty in the city and the empire, beginning with the emperor(s) himself.  Centuries ago, the Angels who advised the emperor directed him to split himself into three aspects.  Each aspect rules, in rotation, and each aspect that dies while on the throne immediately reincarnates. While this is a lot like a Buddhist belief about the reincarnation of certain master monks, Hulick makes good use of it, spinning it in a different direction.  All of this, though, is back-story.  Drothe’s problems are more immediate. 

Hulick’s inconsistent names made me crazy, and his lack of any geographical description of the city was a deficit, although his interior descriptions are detailed and grounded, pinging all the senses.  This really bugged me, and it made me think I should go back to my work, especially the science fiction novel, and look at how good a job I do with the geographical placement of things, not just interiors.  I really felt the lack here.  This is the first book in a series, though, so I expect that the city will come into focus as Drothe’s story continues. 

While the book has a convoluted and puzzling aspect it isn’t an intellectually heavy book by any means.  Some aspects are extremely violent (the opening is a torture scene, so be warned) and people we care about get hurt.  It’s a gritty sword and sorcery novel, so that’s to be expected. 

Pick it up, pop the top on the brew, settle back, and enjoy.

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