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Douglas Hulick – Among Thieves

April 5, 2011

LibraryThing Early Reviewers46. Among Thieves: A Novel of the Kin by Douglas Hulick (2011)

Length: 418 pages
Genre: Fantasy

Started: 21 March 2011
Finished: 26 March 2011

Where did it come from? LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Why do I have it? The description of thieves and secret books and criminal double-crossing sounded like fun.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 09 March 2011.

Criminal plotting
is tough when half the world is
trying to kill you.

Summary: Drothe is a lifelong member of the Kin, as the criminal underworld of the city of Ildrecca like to call themselves. Specifically, he’s a Nose: his job is to listen to the streets, synthesize rumors, and find out what’s really going on in all the spheres of Kin activity. He also has an active sideline in smuggling imperial relics, which typically turns a tidy profit without interfering with his other work. But suddenly his boss is on his case to investigate growing tensions in the slums of the Ten Ways, assassins armed with potent magic seem to be coming out of the woodwork, and all of the whispers start to be about a book that’s more than any ordinary relic, a book that’s intensely powerful and immensely dangerous… a book that Drothe just might have in his possession.

Review: Among Thieves was one of those books that has all the right elements, with no obvious reason I why wouldn’t enjoy it, and yet it just never quite clicked for me. I don’t have a particular affinity for criminal-underworld fantasy novels, but I’ve got nothing against them, either, and Scott Lynch’s novels are some of the best books I’ve read in recent years. Unfortunately, Among Thieves, while similar to Lynch’s novels in the broad strokes of setting and plot, was missing some of the wit and charm and spark that make the Gentleman Bastard books so good. I also noticed that Hulick tended to do his world building piecemeal, scattering mini info-dump lectures on the history of the empire and its religion throughout the action, rather than allowing the details of his world to be incorporated gradually.

This book was a slow start for me, taking me four days to clear the first hundred pages. Things picked up after that, though, and I did eventually wind up liking the story. Hulick’s good at writing the scheming and plotting and double-crossing necessary in a novel with a criminal narrator. It’s a clever plot, with enough twists and turns and surprises to hold my interest once it was captured. Hulick’s also good at writing action scenes, and this book’s got plenty of sword fights, street brawls, and assassination attempts to keep things moving along.

So, overall, this book had a lot of good elements, and no glaring flaws that I can point to. But something about it just didn’t work for me; it didn’t reach out and grab my imagination the way I want my fantasy novels to do. I’m not sorry I read it, but it’s also not destined to become a favorite. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I didn’t love it, but just because it didn’t click for me doesn’t mean it won’t for you. If the idea of non-standard quest fantasy or the honor-among-thieves story appeals to you, then Among Thieves is well worth a try. (As is The Lies of Locke Lamora. Just sayin’.)

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First Line: Athel the Grinner wasn’t grinning.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 119: “Some of his younger apprentices had been there for an hour already, grinding pigments, sorting papers, and gathering glair from the egg whites they had wrung through sponges the night before.” – white of egg, especially when used as a size, glaze, or adhesive, usually in bookbinding.

**All quotes come from an ARC and may not reflect the final published text.**

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2011 7:21 am

    I also noticed that Hulick tended to do his world building piecemeal, scattering mini info-dump lectures on the history of the empire and its religion throughout the action, rather than allowing the details of his world to be incorporated gradually.

    Ew, ew, ew. I just finished up a fantasy novel that did the same thing, but, even worse, the author had characters tell each other things they already knew.

    • April 11, 2011 10:41 am

      Omni – Oh, that’s way worse. In this case, Drothe is clearly narrating to outsiders, so at least there’s a context for the mini-lectures. I’ve seen much worse cases of info-dump worldbuilding, too. On the grand scale of things this isn’t particularly egregious, but it did pull me out of the story enough that I noticed it.

  2. April 5, 2011 8:57 am

    I do like the thief motif in my fantasy novels — like with Eugenides from The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. Fortunately, I have Lies of Locke Lamora in my TBR, and judging from your review, sounds like I’d do best to skip among Thieves and go straight for Lynch.

    • April 11, 2011 10:41 am

      April – Yes, yes, yes! Maybe come back to Among Thieves, but Lies of Locke Lamora is SO GOOD that you definitely should be reading it sooner rather than later.

      SO GOOD!

  3. April 5, 2011 9:11 am

    hmm, sounds like this one isn’t a super duper winner, but if I see it at the library I’ll certainly grab it. I can’t say no to theif/underworld type books.

    that’s the problem with reading Scott Lynch – he makes all the other thief books seem so mediocre!

    • April 11, 2011 10:43 am

      Redhead – It’s true; Lynch is definitely a hard act to follow.

      I’ll be interested to hear what you think about Among Thieves – I’ve seen a lot of really stellar reviews for it, too, so my reaction might be entirely idiosyncratic.

  4. April 5, 2011 8:18 pm

    This sounds a little paint by the numbers. I’m going to echo Redhead and advise April to read Scott Lynch. I can’t recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora highly enough. One of the best and most enjoyable books I have ever read.

    • April 11, 2011 10:44 am

      Elfy – Me too! It was one my best books of the year when I read it (as was Red Seas Under Red Skies, last year), and I’m still impressed with how great it was, even years later.

  5. Carly permalink
    April 7, 2011 5:31 pm

    5 stars: I read Among Thieves and it was great. I disagree with the first review. It was fun, clever, fast paced, no over the top magic.
    It was really well done.

    • April 11, 2011 10:45 am

      Carly – Thanks for your thoughts; it doesn’t surprise me that other people had a better time with this book than I did.

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