Jen reviews Among Thieves, the debut Fantasy novel of M. J. Kuhn, published by Gollancz.
Paul recommended this book to me. He thought I would enjoy it because of our mutual love of Hollins‘ Fool’s Gold – he wasn’t wrong.
|Series: Thieves #1
|Date of Publishing: September 7th, 2021
|Trigger Warnings: death/fighting/blood
|Page count: 350
In just over a year’s time, Ryia Cautella has already earned herself a reputation as the quickest, deadliest blade in the dockside city of Carrowwick—not to mention the sharpest tongue. But Ryia Cautella is not her real name.
For the past six years, a deadly secret has kept her in hiding, running from town to town, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster—the sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. No matter how far or fast she travels, his servants never fail to track her down…but even the most powerful men can be defeated.
Ryia’s path now leads directly into the heart of the Guildmaster’s stronghold, and against every instinct she has, it’s not a path she can walk alone. Forced to team up with a crew of assorted miscreants, smugglers, and thieves, Ryia must plan her next moves very carefully. If she succeeds, her freedom is won once and for all…but unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is, and they all have plans of their own.
“The auction was two days long. One full day to case the island, to set up the last few metaphorical dominos, and one day to actually pull off the job itself. There would be plenty of chances for them to get caught, but this was the first. The first test of the ramshackle plan they had thrown together in the absence of the brilliant Callum Clem.”
Halestorm – I Am The Fire.
Among Thieves is M. J. Kuhn’s debut novel, and what a rocking debut it is!
Among Thieves has all that fun stuff I like in a heist story – starting with a misfit collection of characters banding together. Each has a personal reason or secret, for being a part of this job and each of them would throw the other to the wolves to see it succeed.
Callus Clem is the mastermind behind the plan to steal the Quill: an artifact originally belonging to a famous traitor and adept. No one is sure exactly what the quill does, and even if they did know, that information wouldn’t change their motivations, other than to make sure that whoever ends up with it, would also have a use for their own skillsets as well.
What they do know, is that if Asher, the leader of the Kestrel Crowns wants it, then, The Quill has to be worth something more than just historical value, and in turn- that value means freedom in one way or another for each of our players.
Ryia – The butcher of Carrowwick has some big secrets and some surprising talents that have kept her alive longer than most would be while on the run from disciples. Ryia has a pretty good idea what the Quill is, and does, and for her, it means a chance to quit running.
I genuinely liked all the characters by the end of this story, though Ryia, was the one that took me the longest to warm to. I have read so many stories with the tough-chick type of characters and when she started speaking to her weapons like they were her cats I was little eye-rolly about it. But she really grew on me as the story progressed and I liked her more and more.
A lot of my change of heart about her, had to do with her interactions with the other characters, but especially Evelyn (my favourite) just because they’re so opposite, and they each had something to teach the other. I like when a character grows and especially when a character grows because of another character’s influence – whether it’s because they want to be better for that person or just realize they can be better for themselves.
Evelyn is the youngest needle guard captain, but was stripped of title after the Butcher got away. She has a strong sense of duty, and a big ball of anger in her heart over losing all her hard work, and plans to regain her position by making Ryia pay for her crimes. She’s occasionally quite naïve to the motivations of the seedier side of people but she is learning that lesson quickly. She’s so cute. As I said she was my favourite.
Tristan is a card dealer/thief/hustler with a large bounty on his head and a huge debt. Tristan owes Callus Clem (the head honcho gang leader). Which means Clem owns him body and soul.
He was another favourite. I like characters with big secrets and he fit the bill with a doozy of one. Plus, he has that multifaceted quality that hovers somewhere between outrageous confidence, and boyish charm- the kind that makes you want to pat his head.
Ivan – Is the master of disguises. He has a brother in prison that he is trying to save.
Nash – She’s a scary person and works closely with Calum. Unfortunately, I kept getting her character mixed up with Tanya’s which screwed me up a few times.
A lot of the fun with the story, was in the interactions of the crew. Some don’t like each other much, and others are used to doing things on their own, but all know they have to trust each other to do their part…at least up until the point when the Quill is retrieved. After that it’s anyone’s game. The sniping between them is entertaining, sometimes laugh out loud funny but never overboard or exhausting – also we learn some interesting tidbits about the world through their spats.
Among Thieves is a character-centered heist story with multiple POVs, its smaller word count and large character count, means there isn’t a lot of padding in this story and a lot of the world, magic, and character building, is done through conversations and in bits and pieces here and there.
The story does spend a bit of time setting up the board, introducing and letting us get a feel for the world and the characters but after that it’s a tense fast-paced, twisty-race to the end.
I’m just a big sucker for heist stories and misfit characters and Among Thieves hit all those buttons with me. I had a great time with this book.