on 5 October 2011
Definitely my favourite.
I'm not a big fan of unassuming main characters that can never do anything wrong. Drothe is the opposite: he's good at what he does, but in the book he gets way over his head; and he knows it. He's not an expert fighter, and usually gets by either through luck or his good friend Bronze Degan.
I couldn't fault anything in this book - the characters are all awesome, the city of Ildrecca, although it needs to be further fleshed out, is alive, with the Ten Ways cordon particularly well described, and the storyline is equally personal and epic.
If you liked 'The Lies of Locke Lamora' then you'd definitely enjoy this book.
on 2 April 2011
Among Thieves is the debut novel from Douglas Hulick. Set in the grimy fantasy city of Ildrecca, it is the tale of Drothe, a hooded-assassin type and member of the city's underworld legion of criminal "Kin".
With a scruffy, dual-wielding piratical looking gentleman and a cover quote from Brent Weeks, the reader can be excused for thinking this is your standard act of adolescent escapism - roguish heroism with a sarcastic protagonist. And, to a certain degree, all of these things are true. But when push comes to shove, Among Thieves is more Locke Lamora than Night Angel. It is a cunning and well-scripted action-adventure with a surprisingly complex character at its heart. I expected guilty pleasure and found genuine entertainment.
Drothe (granted, a rather unfortunate name) is a "Nose". He works as an information-gatherer for one of the city's "Upright Men" gathering information on the city's delicate political scene. Ildrecca is divided up by the gangs of "Upright Men" with the Emperor (the land's proper monarch) and the mysterious Gray Princes playing their own, grander, game in the background. As a Nose, Drothe gets into all sorts of trouble - especially since he's running his own cons on the side. Fortunately, his best friend, Bronze Degan, is often there to bail him out.
If nothing else, Mr. Hulick gets sixteen bonus points and a silver star for not making Drothe exceptional in any way. He's clever, but knows he's not as smart as many of the real players in the Kin's underworld. He's pretty fiesty, but certainly no match for the hardened killers he encounters. He's well-connected, but still a minor part of the Kin. As for supernatural, prophesy-fulfilling powers? Er... he's got night vision (the legacy of an awkward childhood ritual), but most of the time it is more of a hindrance than a help. In fact, Drothe's unique only for his Sam Spade-like ability to be in the right place at the wrong time.
Ildrecca is a fascinating city in a thoroughly complicated world, but, like any well-crafted novel - we only learn about it through the eyes of our protagonist. As Drothe creeps about in search of a missing artifact (a book, of all things), he unravels layer after layer. Mr. Hulick's use of his homebrewed Thieves' Cant is another noteworthy element along this vein. He drops in his criminal slang naturally, letting the reader determine the meaning of each word through context and repetition. Considering the depth of both the world and the vocabulary, the fact that Among Thieves does not come packaged with appendices and glossary is a brave and utterly praise-worthy decision. Among Thieves is about the story, not the world.
Mr. Hulick also has an impressive knack for introducing other characters as people rather than representatives of a particular class, race or skill-set. Even with Drothe's enemies, we know them for their personal impact on Drothe and Among Thieves, rather than as more meaningful Big Bads. Despite the far-reaching consequences of Drothe's adventures, Among Thieves is kept as a very focused and personal story.
There are still a few bugs to work out. As mentioned above, Drothe does mostly advance through accident. He's charmingly self-aware of this, but, even so, mostly of his plotting and problem-solving takes place one episodic chapter at a time. In future books, with Drothe as an established character, it would be interesting to see him behave in a less reactive fashion.
Among Thieves is, if you'll forgive the cliche, a promising debut. Mr. Hulick has the hard stuff nailed. He's written a tight, jaunty story and filled it with a large cast of memorable personalities. Mr. Hulick has also created one of the most interesting fantasy landscapes in a long time - a land of interfering angels, shadow governments and immortal monarchs - but he keeps his priorities straight and makes sure that the world-building never takes over. At the conclusion of Among Thieves, anything could happen next, and I can't wait to find out.
on 12 January 2012
Among Thieves is the story of Drothe (no surname - he's too cool for that!), a "Nose" or informant in the pay of one of the crimelords of Ildrecca, the capital of a Renaissance-like empire. There are hints of a wider world outside, but the action of the book is confined to the city itself, particularly the seedier quarters where a "shadow empire" of organised crime holds sway. Drothe works for an Upright Man, one of the lower-level bosses who have carved up the city between them but who are themselves pawns in a larger game played by the Gray Princes, near-legendary figures known only by epithets such as "Longreach" or "The Piper's Son". Hulick's use of historical thieves' cant, supplemented by invented slang, gives shape to what could otherwise be a bewildering array of forgers, fences and hired muscle, as Drothe investigates what seems to be a minor mystery (an undecipherable code found on a smuggler) and finds himself way in over his head.
This is certainly the most action-packed book I've read since The Swords of Albion - poor Drothe rarely escapes a chapter without another chase or fight (and a good deal of resultant pain and injury). The pace develops gently at first, allowing the reader time to get to know the world, but by the halfway mark the plot revelations and action set-pieces are coming thick and fast. The fight scenes in particular are very detailed - Hulick is an aficionado of renaissance swordsmanship - indeed almost a little too detailed and blow-by-blow, but this is first-person narrative so I'm willing to cut Drothe a little slack for being hyperaware in combat. I know from firsthand experience (not fighting, I must add) how time really does seem to slow down when your adrenaline spikes!
It's not all swordplay, however; this is a world of magic too, from minor charms used by the criminal fraternity to spells of earth-shattering power forbidden to all but the emperor. Mostly, though, magic seems to cause more problems than it solves - an approach I heartily endorse.
Overall, a cracking debut, and I'm really looking forward to reading the sequel, Sworn in Steel, which is due out summer 2012.
on 18 October 2011
I'll be honest - I get a bit blasé about claims that a new writer is `the best thing since Scott Lynch/Brent Weeks/Joe Abercrombie' - all of which have been said about Douglas Hulick, who has been heaped with praise for his debut novel Among Thieves.
Hulick certainly went with the notion of starting this tale of nefarious dealings with a bang - a torture scene where his protagonist is the torturer. It's a big risk. And a testament to Hulick's writing skill that despite such a start, I ended up thoroughly liking Drothe, who turns out to be a dependable chap - in a squirrelly, sneaking back-handed way.... The story is told in first person viewpoint. As well as getting to know Drothe's interestingly complex character, we also are treated to a front row seat as this Nose is pitchforked into the middle of a plot with more twists than a corkscrew.
Hulick's other strength is his depiction of the world. Ildrecca is wonderfully described, particularly the revolting slum that is Ten Ways. This is a complex world, with plenty of politics and religion, along with a magic called glimmer. However, we learn of it in manageable slices as the plot whips along - there's no dreary two-page exposition. I also love the way that some of Drothe's assumptions are completely undercut by the end of the book. In addition to Drothe, there is an entertaining cast of characters - as this is apparently the start of a series, I'm looking forward to seeing more of Christiana, Drothe's enigmatic sister, who has managed to marry into nobility.
An aspect of the book that I particularly enjoyed, was Hulick's use of language. This is something, in my opinion, not enough fantasy/science fiction authors consider sufficiently. It always grates with me when I hear a 20th century idiom roll off the tongue of an otherworldly wizard, or a posthuman character travelling faster-than-light. Hulick addresses this issue with his Cant. There are those readers who profess to have found it off-putting and claim that it got in the way of the story. I'm scratching my head over that one. Once I got into the rhythm of the writing, I found that I rarely had to stop and think about exactly what was being said - and if I did, surely it isn't necessarily a major problem? If he'd made the whole language completely impenetrable, I could see why readers might have grounds for protesting, but in the act of picking up a book I expect to engage with it. As a reader, I do prefer an author who presupposes that I am intelligent and capable of joining up some of the dots myself.
The fight scenes are well handled - although if I've got a grizzle, there's probably a couple too many for my taste - however that said, I'm aware that solid fans of this sub-genre really appreciate all the dashing and slashing with sharp, pointy weapons. And the major twist at the end was one I really didn't see coming. All in all, for once I find myself nodding at the favourable comparisons with Lynch, Weeks et al... In fact, chaps, I think you'll need to look to your laurels. If this series fulfils its promise - I can see newcomer Hulick being a real contender.
on 26 April 2011
Well, I would put this one on pair with writers such as Abercrombie.
It fits very well into this new wave of dark/realism that seems to have swept fantasy lately...
Action is bloody, gritted and intense. The distinction between evil/good does not make much sense because of the genuine realism of protagonists. This makes them all the more believable and likeable.
One difference though: instead of swapping between points of views at every chapter like seems to be the contemporary fashion, the story focuses on this one complex and very likeable character in a fist person view.
The author got that simple but difficult act perfectly balanced, and it works extremely well!
I was getting tired of these panoramic views of the same story where you had to go from uninteresting to even less interesting characters...
I literally could not put the book down...
Hats off to Douglas Hulick !!!
on 25 July 2011
Tightly written and gripping from the first few pages, this book was a pleasant surprise.
I enjoyed the first person narration, as it brought me very close to Drothe, his thoughts, attitudes, and language.
The latter is very direct and creates a film noir atmoshpere.
Drothe's adventures get more and more complicated, as what starts off as a relic theft and a gang skirmish, develops into an all-encopassing conspiracy. Drothe, being a realistic character, stumbles from clue to clue and survives with the help of friends and allies. However, hes is not a puppet. He makes the best possible decisions with the information available at each point in the narration, and fights his ways through an unlimited appearance of enemies and assassins. Everytime he starts off to go from A to B, something happens and Drothe is forced to adjust his strategy ending up in C. And the reader follows him through this maze of street connections, knife and sword fights and magic.
I loved the book and can't wait for the next one.
on 26 February 2012
I must admit the first few pages did have me wondering whether or not I was going to like this book. But literally get past the first 5 pages, learn the names and you're good to go. Douglas Hulick has produced a superb debut novel and I'm not ashamed to say I am impatiently awaiting the next installment. I have the kindle version and the paperback - that's how much i love it!
The story follows Drothe, a fairly smart but not the toughest criminal out there, who relies on his abilities as 'Nose' to get him through life. In what I'd say is a fairly medieval world, he seeks to prevent what is easiest to describe as a civil war in a looked down upon community to prevent the collapse of his work/life (These are the same thing to Drothe). There are - without spoiling the story - higher forces involved, many levels of thieves, assasins, organisations of thieves and their leaders, lords and imperial 'sashes' etc, and only a select few know what is actually being fought over; a mysterious book that has some mysterious power. Drothe comes across this book, and for those who know of the books existence and have some idea of what is within it, Drothe is now at the center of their attentions.
The story has many twists, there are a couple of rare but tentative friendships formed between Drothe and other characters that keep the story juicy and interesting. Told exclusively through Drothes eyes, this book appealed to me massively as I cannot STAND books that constantly flit between characters. Though this is the case, the story is so interesting, brilliantly paced and well told it doesn't matter, and there is a good deal of humor in there as well, the timing of which is done outstandingly well.
Magic is incorporated into the story well and is not overpowering, fighting is described fluidly, characters have depth and you become drawn to them quickly. As the story progresses you begin to back Drothe more and more, and I cannot wait for the rest of this series. It cannot come fast enough!
on 9 January 2012
I've been reading a lot of great debuts lately and Among Thieves is definitely one of the top ones. Hulick applies his love of fencing and medieval history to create a convincing criminal underworld filled with rich history, action and excitement.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Drothe - a nose, a person responsible for sniffing out information for the crime boss. What started out as a simple job to find the missing Imperial relic quickly spiralled out of control, as Drothe finds himself caught in an all-out gang war backed by the mysterious Gray Princes and a plot that will destory everthing around him. Now Drothe and his sworn partner Degan must do everything they can to correct the mess in the criminal infested cordon known as Ten Ways.
It's been a while since I've read a story told from the first person and it took a little while to get used to. However within the next few chapters I already found myself loving Drothe's voice and completely immersed in the world Hulick created. I couldn't put this book down even though I was supposed to read this over a period of a month for the Fantasy Faction bookclub.
There really isn't anything bad I can say about this book. The story is fast paced and full of energy, as evident in the wild chases across Ten Ways and the thrilling fight scenes. The interaction between Drothe and Degan gives us more insight into why Drothe is the way he is and greatly adds to the story. Also the relationship Drothe has with his sister serves as the much needed comic relief in this otherwise action orientated book.
I personally think that there is much more to the Gray Princes than what Hulick has already told us in the book and I really can't wait to be proved right or wrong in my theories.
This is a strong and well-rounded debut with everything that you would look for in an action-packed fantasy story. Look forward to the sequel, Sworn in Steel out in April 2012.
on 21 October 2011
I love the fantasy genre. But I'm impatient so I want to get to the point of a story quickly. Recently I've read a few fantasy books where the build up has been very slow and the culmination underwhelming.
So I picked this book up on a whim. It sounded interesting but I expected the normal scene setting, coming of age type story. I was wrong and this story was brilliant.
Drothe is a Nose (which you will quickly learn means intelligence gatherer), the story starts with an interregation of a guy who has information on an item he is looking for - the information which Drothe gets sets him on a path of happenstance and danger.
It took about two chapters for me to realise I was hooked on this book. At first I was a little worried that the slang that was being used in the book would make it difficult to follow what was happening. But you quickly start to understand the meanings behind Dustmans, long-nosing and glimmer.
One thing that really sets this story apart is the fact Mr Hulick doesn't try to make you take in an entire world in one chapter, he doesn't get lost in detail that takes you away from the story and, most importantly, the central character Drothe is one you actually care about.
I get through a fair number of books flitting from genre to genre, in the fantasy space, this is the first one since Name of the Wind that I've considered to be different yet familiar and has kept me awake to just read more. I can't recommend this enough.
on 2 August 2012
Good book, well written. Interesting premise, interesting world, interesting characters.
The main character is a bit 'lucky' for me - in that respect it reminds me of Matt Reilly's novels, but this is much more interesting/better written.
I won't go into the plot, but will say it's easy reading and certainly makes you want to know what happens next.
The only (minor) thing I didn't like was the section at the start about the author - stick it on Wiki or reduce it to a paragraph. (to clarify I don't mind if the author has written lots of books and is famous and has a page in the book, but if this is your only book you shouldn't be taking up pages)
Verdict: if you like fantasy world, action with cloak and dagger thrown in then you'll enjoy this book.