Among Thieves is Douglas Hulick’s debut novel and part of his new Tales of the Kin series. It is the story of a dangerous city, Ildrecca, and an ancient, constantly reincarnating emperor who rules not just the city but the world. Among Thieves is a story of mystery–approaching the feel of a detective novel–and of gritty epic fantasy filled with thieves, assassins, and other figures from the underworld.
A refreshing perspective
A first-person narrative in fantasy usually has a purpose: a bored innkeeper tells a chronicler the story of how he was once famous, or the main character is actually having a conversation with a god in her mind. Among Thieves is told from a first-person perspective as well, yet it has no ulterior motive. In fact, all it offers is a very refreshing epic told from one viewpoint instead of multiple viewpoints.
While reading this novel, the benefits of this narrative immediately become clear. Not only is the focus primarily on action and suspense, without slowing the story down by telling it from a wider angle, but the character that is being built this way is one of the best characters in fantasy to date. Instead of looking from the outside in, the reader truly gets to know Drothe and all his motives, seeing how he views the world and the people around him. More than that, the writing as Drothe tells us about his world is incredibly well done. He takes us along into the underworld he lives in and briefly informs us of any background we need as the story develops. There are no big info dumps that throw off the pace of the story, just small flashes of background while the action takes place. If you’ve ever watched the television series Burn Notice, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Nosing around mysteries
Drothe is a Nose, a member of the Kin, who works finding out information for a crime lord. Unlike Ears, who just relay small pieces of information, Noses puzzle the small pieces together into a bigger picture.
When he’s not nosing around, Drothe collects valuable relics. Among Thieves throws us into the middle of the action as Drothe is tracking down a lost relic that points to a bigger mystery. When his boss calls upon him to track down who is crossing him in the slums of Ten Ways, the mysteries soon collide and Drothe realizes that something big is going down. From there, the story never slows down, leading you from trying to fit together various pieces of the story to fighting assassins and crime lords.
Among Thieves will keep you guessing until the very end, throwing dilemmas at you that you’ll want to resolve just as badly as Drothe himself. Most importantly, through all the action and suspense, the story stays true to itself, never once faltering or slowing down and never once making us doubt the believability of Drothe or his friends.
Character-driven despite the action
Drothe is smart, witty, funny, and honorable, but most importantly, he isn’t your all-powerful hero. In fact, he’s small and weak and hardly ever wins a fight on strength alone. Instead, he relies on his wits and his friends. Despite the amazing action, pacing, and suspense, Drothe is what truly makes Among Thieves one of the best books I’ve read in a while. The fact that the novel doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t already seen in fantasy doesn’t change the book’s greatness: Among Thieves is a perfect mix of all the familiar tropes and elements of the genre.
Running through Ildrecca’s streets
The world and atmosphere, too, make this one of this year’s best debuts, an assertion I don’t hesitate to make even though the year has barely begun. The city of Ildrecca perfectly fits the story’s needs, with a gritty atmosphere, a mysterious air, and many different factions that expand the scope of the city in a very realistic way. I could almost see myself running through Ildrecca’s streets alongside Drothe. The brief pieces of history relayed by Drothe during the story only serve to further increase this scope. The alternative use of magic, set up almost as an afterthought yet still important to the story, adds to the story’s originality and creativity.
However, I would lie if I said the world-building was perfect. The first person perspective clearly works to limit Hulick’s world-building, and that feels like an opportunity missed. I’d love to see more of the world and the empire in future Tales of the Kin.
Why should you read this book?
As I said, Douglas Hulick is definitely a contender for the best debuting author of the year. His debut novel isn’t quite as good as Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind, but Among Thieves is definitely up to par with a lot of other debuts like Sanderson’s Elantris, Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man, or Brent Weeks’ Way of Shadows. If you’re a fan of any of these, you owe it to yourself to give Among Thieves a try. If you’re a fan of mysterious, exciting, and action-packed epic fantasy, you should definitely pick it up as well. I promise you, it’s a hell of a read that you won’t put down until you finish it.