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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.
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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.
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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 !!!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 May 2011
In an increasing busy sub-genre, that of the loveable(?) rogue, this isn't a bad entry for a first attempt. There would appear to be plenty mileage in the characters in here but they need drawing out more and the world depicted is all a bit generic. I also think that the author lays on the action a bit too thick at times as the hero immediately jumps from one peril to another sometimes literally. This means that the book is very much plot driven and I would hope that in future volumes the characters and the world given room to breathe. I get the impresion that this has been written with one eye on the screen rather than as a straight novel but it is a decent if a tad formulaic,romp.
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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.
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on 9 December 2011
Read this if you like a story where good and bad doesn't really count. At first your tempted to say this is a story of no honour among thieves, but when you've read it through and thought about it, there is quite alot of honour among these thieves, or at least some of them, and in their own way.

It is an underhand and dirty world you're introduced to. The world building is a bit lacking at times but nothing major.

This is not a story of the underdog growing up and surviving due to finding his true/hidden abilities but a story of a man who survives on wit, will, guile, grit and blood and by the fact that he continues even when battered and bruised.
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on 18 May 2011
I bought this book on the strength of all the glowing reviews posted here. Now, in my mind, a really good book deserves four stars but to earn a five star review it should be something special. So when I saw the unanimous praise heaped upon 'Among Thieves', I felt motivated to gamble my money on a promising new author. Sadly, my five star expectations dropped stars like a meteor shower as page followed lacklustre page. I feel somewhat churlish about being the first person here to give a less than positive review but I feel duty bound to offer a different point of view that might save others like me from wasting their time on a very average book.

The main problem with this book is the narration. It is a first person narration, which is a time honoured tradition, but whereas we were content back in the 1930s to have Philip Marlowe recount his adventures to us for no particular reason, nowadays we have more sophisticated expectations. 'Why is this person telling us this story?' we might wonder. 'Is this narrator reliable?' we might ask, or even: 'Does this narrator draw us in to his world or does he somehow distance us from it by being a rather flimsy literary device?' To me, the rather modern voice of the narrator serves only to distance me from his medieval milieu.

This problem is exacerbated by the mismatch between the received sense of the character of the narrator and the life which he actually describes himself as living. The narrator comes across as being straight forward, likeable and essentially decent, which seems completely at odds with his reports of having come up very hard in a harsh environment and living a daily life that seems to involve killing in hot and cold blood, racketeering, whoring, lying, betrayal, stimulant addiction, intimidation and general all purpose thuggery. As the plot twists and turns it becomes hard to see if the narrator is supposed to be an honourable man or a ruffian. Presumably he is supposed to be a charming rogue living in a world where there is no black and white but only shades of grey but sadly, that is not something he pulls off in the slightest.

There also seems to be some confusion as to whether our hero is clever or not. On the one hand he represents himself as a Philip Marlowe (a super cool, razor sharp and ultra on-the-case private detective, in case you're not familiar with the character) but, as he remains at least one step behind through most of the story, he comes across as being more of a Big Lebowski (I'm going to presume you already know who that is), though with much less charm.

I'm pretty sure that this ambivalence of character is not because he is an unreliable narrator, subtly presented by a skilful author to add layers of depth to an apparently simple story. No, I think it's because the writing's just not that good and, as this flawed narration is our first and only point of contact with the story, the story itself is therefore hopelessly handicapped from beginning to end.

Sadly the other characters are equally unconvincing. Solitude for example, who is supposed to be this great Machiavellian power, comes across as a daft bint with nice eyes. None of the characters manages to convey any real emotion beyond a bland, amiable smugness. What's more, the characters all speak with the same voice, regardless of their age, gender, socio-economic status, and nationality.

The plot is a twisty turny thing that in more skilled hands might have come off well and even redeemed the book. Alas, this plot drives the characters rather than the other way round so that many of the characters' actions, which mark turns in the plot, seem to be entirely arbitrary. Also the twists and turns come too thick and fast for the reader to gather any real sense of time or location in this fictional world.

The world that the story inhabits is actually not all bad: the idea of the perpetually and concurrently reincarnating Emperor for example, is an interesting one. However, the world generally doesn't come across as being particularly authentic, with the descriptions of the gang wars for example, seeming to be logistically unlikely.

Most of the characters employ a thieves cant which sounds like it should add colour to the dialogue but really doesn't. It rather puts me in mind of American tourists who contrive to sound cool by dropping words like 'quid' or 'pub' into converstaion with British natives.

I had had high hopes for the combat sequences, having read that the author is a student of European Historical Martial Arts. To be fair, his technical understanding does come across well but he utterly fails to convey any sense of drama or excitement in the combat.

If all that sounds terribly damning, I would like to say right now that this is not a bad book. Its just not a good book. In spite of my disappointment, I read it to the end, in much the same way that I would finish off a box of popcorn even after the popcorn had started tasting of cardboard.
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on 7 July 2011
There has been a trend in the last seven years or so of fantasy novels focusing on the criminal underworld with protagonists who are varying shades of grey. The covers often feature men in hoods and the quality of these books varies a great deal in my opinion. Given the wealth of material available in this sub-genre, I read from this segment very sparingly. Having said all of that, I think to date Among Thieves is my fantasy debut of the year. When I finished it I had the same vibe and buzz as when I finished reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch for the first time. Both are excellent stories bursting at the seams with brilliant characterisation and a story with many plot twists that keep the reader off balance. With some novels I have a general idea of where events are going and with others the author throws in twists that appear to be there only to shock the reader and there doesn't seem to be any logical reason for them. The best written novels are those where the author lulls you into a comfortable place and then pulls the rug out from under you, but if you go back you can see the clues that led to the twist.

Among Thieves is a cousin of Scott Lynch's books because it deals with various criminal gangs vying for control of a city. The story is focused on the criminal gangs and it's about how they operate and how they control larger events which shape the world around them, as opposed to being caught up in world events and having to adapt. An example of the latter would be The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks where the city is invaded and the lead assassin character is swept along rather than being the architect.

In some ways Among Thieves feels more local, the story is focused in one place but we are made aware of other times and places, adding a richness and depth to the world without the need for lots of exposition. Where relevant we might learn about a former ruler or a bit of local history, but it's done sparingly, keeping the story moving at a good pace. Hulick has got the world building balance just right for me and the information given is there for a reason and not just for show.

Characterisation is excellent and the world is full of terribly flawed and unpleasant individuals who don't always make the right decision and they must face the consequences of those actions. Magic does feature in the story, but it is treated as an unstable and dangerous commodity that a rare few can perform accurately. Most criminals don't bother with it as the rewards are not equal to the risk, so they give it a wide berth. They rely on their wits and their steel, their team and their boss. Crime is organised with gangs protecting territories and as expected conflicts occur when gangs overstep their boundaries.

A fascinating aspect to the book is the use of street slang, or thieves cant, to describe various people and their roles within the criminal underworld. Arms are enforcers, Ears are informers etc. The main character Drothe is a Nose, someone who roots out information for his boss, a sort of internal affairs officer, who smells out trouble and reports back before matters can develop. Of course that's how it would be in a perfect world and as expected Drothe gets caught up in something over his head and has to find a way out.

I've said it in other reviews - if there's nothing likeable about a character, especially the main one, and you can't bond with them in some way then it's difficult to care about their fate and keep reading. Drothe was by no means a saint but at his core I thought he was a good person, someone trying to do the right thing, so I was able to sympathise with his situation. Without spoiling it, some of the villains are so incredibly fascinating that I wanted to know more about them too and just points to the author's talent for characterisation.

Among Thieves is a dark and twisted story that is firmly focused on the seedier and darker side of life in a fantasy city. If you are happy with your main character being less than perfect then you will enjoy this, but if you need a hero with a chiselled jaw and no flaws then look elsewhere. It's brutal, brilliantly told, gripping and very exciting read. When I finished I was desperate to read more and I hope there will be other novels in the series as there is certainly a lot left to explore in the world Hulick has created.
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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.
10/10
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on 24 August 2011
I'll make this quick as others have covered the book in greater detail and I agree whole heartedly with the positive comments. I'm a fairly prolific reader of fantasy and this is the best read I've had in ages. It's well worth the money to buy and totally sold me on my new kindle (which is brilliant too).
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