Drothe is a Nose, an informant who finds and takes care of trouble inside the criminal organization he’s a part of. He also smuggles imperial relics on the side.
When his boss sends him to Ten Ways to track down who’s been leaning on his organization’s people, Drothe discovers hints of a much bigger mystery. Someone is trying to stir up trouble between lower-level criminal organizations, including the one Drothe belongs to. And there’s a book rumored to contain imperial glimmer (or magic) that a lot of very dangerous people seem to be looking for - including two crime bosses known as the Gray Princes.
When Drothe discovers the book, he finds himself holding a bit of swag that can bring down emperors, shatter the criminal underworld, and unlock forbidden magic…that's if he can survive long enough to use it.
Thieves? Intrigue? Inconvenient books? What more could a girl who’s had to spend half a year reading Ian McEwan want?
I pretty much buried myself in this book from the minute I plonked myself into my beanbag. There’s no bother with an introduction or prologue of any sort – the reader is dropped head-over-tail into the stinky, sneaky city of Ildrecca, and the chaotic life of our first-person narrator, Drothe (whom I decided I wanted to befriend within about five pages, despite still being mystified about how on earth you pronounce his name).
The view through Drothe’s eyes is fascinating. Ildreccan phraseology and slang add a sense of gritty authenticity to a world that is, otherwise, pretty sparingly described. Though it takes a little time to get your head around all the terms for different types of criminal, there’s a sort of conspiratorial wryness in the writing that smooths it over. However, some may feel cheated of not hearing more of Ildrecca’s history, mythology and culture as, being a local, Drothe has no reason to describe much of it beyond the things he trips over. Drothe’s own history is never fully explained either, including tantalising crumbs regarding his uber-cool night vision, and a dark past involving drug use. Furthermore, what we do get is pieced together in a rather haphazard fashion, which doesn’t entirely make sense unless you are paying quite close attention to the momentary relapses or explanatory passages.
But I didn’t really give a fig about all of that. I was too busy enjoying myself.
If you thought Among Thieves opened in the middle of a mess, then what happens next will be nothing short of a pyrotechnic display. Although not riddled with overly complex twists and turns, the storyline is certainly nimble enough to run you in a few circles as the multiple dangers, discoveries and deaths link together. The pace is fairly swift, but one doesn’t need to note down every excruciating detail in order to keep up with the mystery. The clichéd use of a book as the central MacGuffin is something of a damper, but thankfully the book itself isn’t harked on about all that much – a great mercy for anyone who’s survived the tales where we’re bashed over the head with the importance of the sought-after item every other sentence.
No, the important thing in this story is the glorious mayhem that the book causes. Despite wielding knives, rapiers, and a best friend who could send armies running for mummy, Drothe manages to pull off the art of being both enviably skilled and ridiculous as only humans can be. Rather than escaping James-Bond-style from every scrape, climbing along ceilings and bugging rooms to listen to his enemies’ conversations, he spends more time crashing through rooves, tripping over the edges of tables, irritating the local law enforcement and fending off assassins with a laundry basket.
Alongside this, Drothe’s sister Christiana, aforementioned best friend Bronze Degan, and the colourful cast of gang bosses, assassins, informants and fruit stall owners who accompany the tale are all well-developed personalities in their own right, and make wonderful additions to the tale. Perhaps not always sympathetic, but they’re certainly forceful enough to remind us that Drothe isn’t the only one who's got something to lose. What’s more, although the “main” villain (if I can use that term – there’s an awful lot of people out to stick holes in our accident-prone narrator throughout the course of the story) bears a somewhat stereotypical name and motive, he genuinely rackets up his points on the scary-and-probably-crazy-o-metre. Especially in the closing stages of the book. Eat your heart out, Lord Voldemort.
But the story’s not all flash-bang and murderous front doors. Though there is little in the way of romance, the author has made a concerted effort to work in the emotional side of the story’s happenings. Drothe’s relationship with Christiana is the ultimate love-hate sibling rivalry– while she may set assassins on him every other week, she’s fiercely defensive of this sole right to fratricide, and although Bronze Degan has a habit of being incredibly unsympathetic over anything less than a missing limb, his loyalty to Drothe is nothing short of astounding. Dare I admit that I felt my heart breaking just a little bit when we see what that loyalty leads to?
A final spoiler-free note on the ending of the book, before I go: asthmatics may want to bring a spare tank of oxygen. In fact, everyone else should probably bring one too. Boxes of tissues are advised, but not obligatory.
Until next time, my friends. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to acquire myself a rapier . . .
"Among Thieves" is available for purchase on both UK and US Amazon (and presumably other major retailers), in paper and ebook format.