Among Thieves (Tale of the Kin Series #1)by Douglas Hulick
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Drothe has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers in the employ of a crime lord while smuggling relics on the side. But when an ancient book falls into his hands, Drothe finds himself in possession of a relic capable of bringing down emperors-a relic everyone/b>/i>
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View our feature on Douglas Hulick's Among Thieves.
Drothe has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers in the employ of a crime lord while smuggling relics on the side. But when an ancient book falls into his hands, Drothe finds himself in possession of a relic capable of bringing down emperors-a relic everyone in the underworld would kill to obtain.
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Athel the Grinner wasn't grinning. In fact, he didn't look that good at all. A long night of torture will do that to a person.
I knelt beside him. He was naked, his arms lashed across the top of a barrel, the rest of him collapsed behind. I avoided looking at the bloody mess that had once been his hands and feet.
"Athel," I said. Nothing. I slapped the smuggler lightly on his sweaty cheek. "Hey, Athel." His eyelids fluttered once. I wove my fingers into his hair, took hold, and raised his head so he could see me. If any of the sympathy or pity I felt showed on my face, so be it. I don't have to like what I do sometimes. I said his name again.
Athel's eyes opened and began wandering around the shadowed room. I waited for him to notice me in the candlelight. He did.
"Drothe?" he said. His voice was slow and rusty as he spoke my name. I could tell he was having trouble focusing on me in the flickering light.
"Grinner," I replied, "want to tell me something?"
"Wha…?" His eyes began to close.
I gave his head a shake. "Athel!" His dark eyes snapped open, feverish in their intensity. I leaned forward and locked my gaze with his, trying to hold his attention by force of will.
"Where's the reliquary?" I said.
Athel tried to swallow, but coughed instead. "Already told you it's coming. I just…"
"If it's coming," I said, "why did I have to chase you halfway across the city? Why did I have to drag you off that skiff as it was launching into the bay? Doesn't seem like you've been playing straight with me, Grinner."
Athel shook his head, his hair tugging gently in my hand, and grinned weakly. "Wouldn't cross you, Drothe—you know that."
"But you did," I said. I tapped one of his ruined fingers, making him gasp. "You told me earlier, remember?" I let him think back on the pain and remember why he had decided to talk the first time. "You've put me in an awkward position, Athel. I have a buyer and no reliquary for him. That undercuts my reputation. That makes me unhappy. So, either you tell me where to find that reliquary, or I come back after my people have done some more persuading."
I could tell he was thinking about it. His eyes glassed over, and his jaw wobbled softly as he argued it over inside. If the Angels had any mercy, they would let him crack the rest of the way right now. I knelt next to what was left of him and waited, hoping it would end here.
When Athel finally came back up from wherever he had been, I could see the Angels weren't on my side tonight. Despite all he had gone through, he was still able to summon up a piercing look and give me the weakest shake of his head.
I placed his head gently back on top of the barrel and stood.
"I need to know who he sold it to," I said. "I need a name."
"I'll get you one. Don't worry," said a voice from the darkened warehouse around us.
Shatters came walking into the candle's circle of light, his two assistants behind him. One was carrying a bucket of seawater.
The Agonyman was small, even shorter than I, with broad shoulders and no neck to speak of. His hands were long and expressive, like an artist's, and he was constantly cracking his knuckles as he walked. Shatters stopped beside me and smiled cruel, hungry smile. "He's close to the edge now. Won't take much more to get him babbling like a drunken whore." He popped a thumb joint for emphasis.
The assistant with the bucket stepped forward and emptied it over Athel. The smuggler sputtered, then howled as the salt water reached his ravaged hands. I turned away as the other assistant began sorting through the torturer's tools that had been set aside during my interview.
"Let me know when he's ready." My voice came out thick. "I'll be outside." Shatters's laughter followed me through the shuttered warehouse until I opened the door and stepped outside.
I blinked in surprise at the sunlight that struck me in the face. Dawn already? I squinted at the soft glow that seemed to suffuse every tower and building of the Imperial capital. Ildrecca tried its hardest to look peaceful and serene in that light, but I've known the city too long to be fooled so easily. Nice try, old friend.
Bronze Degan was across the street, leaning in a doorway. I went over.
"Anything?" he asked.
"Not since the last time I went in." I gestured to the sun in the east. "When did that happen?"
"Not too long ago." He yawned. "How much longer?"
I felt myself yawn in return. I hated that. "Hell if I know," I said.
Degan grunted and rearranged himself in the doorway. Half again as tall as me, with fair hair and skin, broad shoulders, and a lean build, he seemed to fill the entire space on his own. Some of that came from the cut of his clothes—the flowing, long green linen coat, left open to show off the copper-colored doublet beneath, the matching full-cut breeches, the wide-brimmed hat—but just as much came from the man himself. He had an air of easy, capable confidence about him that caused people to give him a healthy berth even in the most crowded city streets. Of course, it didn't hurt that a bronze-chased sword hung at his side, either—a sword that marked him as a member of the Order of the Degans, an old mercenary order in an even older city. No one entered into that select brotherhood of sell-swords without plenty of personal cachet to begin with.
I slid into the doorway beside Degan, sat down on the stoop, and dug out two ahrami seeds from the pouch around my neck. They were small and oval, the size of my largest knuckle, and darkly roasted. I rubbed them between my palms to let them absorb some sweat. A sharp, acrid smell, with subtle hints of cinnamon, earth, and smoke, rose up from my hands. I felt my pulse quicken at the aroma.
"Breakfast," announced Degan.
I looked up. "What?"
"I've decided you owe me breakfast."
Degan gave me a wry look as he silently counted off three fingers.
"Ah," I said. "Well, I suppose you earned it."
Degan snorted. There had been three men with Athel the Grinner when I'd finally tracked him down—three very large men. For me, they would have been an impossible barrier; for Degan, they were little more than an inconvenience. If not for him, I'd never have made it out of that plaza, and Athel would still be grinning.
"Thanks," I added. It was something I didn't say to my friend nearly enough, and something he didn't worry about hearing. We'd been running the streets together long enough to have moved past words and gestures like that.
Degan shrugged. "Slow night. I needed something to do."
I smiled and was just slipping the ahrami seeds into my mouth when a muffled scream came out of the warehouse. Degan and I looked up and down the street, but there was no one to hear Athel's cries—or, at least, no one who felt inclined to investigate. I shuddered in the silence that followed.
I had been planning on letting the seeds sit in my mouth for a while, to savor the quickening of my pulse in anticipation. Now, I simply bit down. The ahrami filled my mouth with smoky, bittersweet flavor. I chewed quickly, swallowed, and waited for them to hit.
They came on fast, as the straight seeds always do. One moment I was tired and half asleep; the next, I felt revitalized. The cobwebs that had been draping themselves across my mind for the last several hours receded, replaced with a sense of alertness. I could feel the worst of the tension drain out of me. My back loosened, and the pressure that had been building behind my eyes faded away. The fatigue was still there—I wasn't going to be running across the city again any time soon—but I didn't feel as raw as I had a few moments ago.
I sat up a little straighter and worked the kinks from my shoulders. My mind was settled, my pulse was steady, and my eyes were sharp once more.
I shook the bag around my neck before slipping it back under my shirt. Only a few seeds left. I'd have to restock soon.
We settled back and waited. I thought I heard a few more screams, but the city was coming alive by then and the yells seemed softer than before, so it was hard to tell.
One of Shatters's men came out to get me just as the ahrami was starting to wear off. By the time I made it back into the warehouse and stood at the Agonyman's side, the rush had faded completely, leaving me in a less than charitable mood.
"Well?" I said.
Shatters was rinsing his hands and forearms in a large bucket of water that had been set atop a crate. "Gotcher name."
"And?" I said.
"Amazing how good this feels after a long night," he said, nodding toward the water. "Ya get warm, working on a man that long." Shatters glanced at me sideways. "Makes you appreciate the simple things, you know?"
I stayed silent. I suspected I knew where this was going, but I wanted to let him get there on his own.
"Like hawks," said Shatters. "Hawks are simple things."
He nodded. "You want something, you give a person hawks and he gives it to ya. The more you want it, the more money you give him."
I nodded. This was going where I had thought it would: Shatters was trying to shake me down.
"Pretty simple," I said. "Except we already agreed on a price."
Shatters paused as he leaned over the bucket. I noticed that the water had taken on a reddish tint. "This took longer than I expected," he said flatly. "I figure if something takes that long to get, it's worth a higher price. A man don't hold out like Athel did for sheer stubbornness." He ran a finger through the water. "You want to hear what he had to say, you'll hatch some more hawks."
"Or he won't be telling no one nothing ever again, and the name walks with me."
Shatters grinned. "Smart lad." He bent down to rinse his face.
"Smart," I agreed as I grabbed the back of his neck and shoved his head down into the water. I shifted my weight to keep him there, steadying the bucket with my other hand as he struggled.
As a rule, I don't mind renegotiating—hell, it's part of doing business with people like Shatters. Kin are always trying to line their pockets with a few extra hawks. But there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. The right way involves respect and a little give and take from both sides; the wrong way usually involves demanding more money "or else." Unless I'm the one offering it, I hate "or else."
Even under water, Shatters was loud. His assistants came running. I barely glanced up as they came into sight.
"First one of you raises a hand goes dustmans," I said. They both skidded to a stop, torn between my threat to kill them and their duty to their master. They eyed me, Shatters, and each other in turn.
I knew I had them the moment they hesitated. "Fade," I said. Still, they stood there. I looked up from Shatters's flailing and met the larger man's eyes. "What are you, a couple of Eriffs? Don't you know who I am? I said, fade!"
The larger man ducked his head and turned away. The smaller one paused and eyed the distance between us, considering. I showed my teeth.
"Come on, pup. Try me."
Shatters's struggles had begun to weaken by then. I raised his head out of the water long enough for him to get half a breath, then shoved it back under. Pause, repeat, and again. Near the end of the fourth dunking, I let go and stepped away.
Shatters fell sideways with his head still in the bucket, spilling water over himself and the floor. He lay there, coughing violently, his body convulsing with the effort. I knelt down and relieved him of his dagger as he vomited up water and bile.
"The name," I said when he was done.
Shatters spit. "Screw," he said.
"That's not a name," I said. I stood and pushed his face into his own vomit with my foot, crushing his nose against the floor in the process. "Try again."
Shatters gagged and tried to wrench his head up. I let him after a moment.
"Ioclaudia," he gasped. "The name's Ioclaudia."
I arched an eyebrow. It was an old-fashioned name; certainly one I wasn't familiar with on the street. "Who is…?" I asked.
Shatters started on another coughing fit. I nudged him with the toe of my boot.
"Don't know. Athel wouldn't say."
"What's her connection with Athel? Was she his buyer?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Where is she?"
Shatters shook his head.
"What about the reliquary?" I said. "Did you find out where it is?"
Shatters was rising to his hands and knees now, arms trembling but getting stronger every moment. "All he said was he needed to make some kind of swap. It sounded as if it came up suddenlike."
"And he used my reliquary?"
Bastard. "What did he swap it for?"
"How the hell should I know?" Anger had found its way back into his voice. "Shit," he said, looking up at me. "You little shit. Do you know what my brothers will do to you for this?"
I reached out and put his own dagger against his cheek. Shatters froze, staring at the steel. It was sharp; a rivulet of blood appeared without any effort on my part.
"Don't even think about making this personal," I said. "You tried to shake me down, and I called you on it. It's business. It's over." I moved the blade down, letting it linger beside his neck. "But if you insist on bringing in your fellow Agonymen, not only will I take it poorly, but Nicco probably won't be too pleased, either. And I know you don't want him mad at you."
Shatters paled at the mention of Nicco's name. Niccodemus Alludrus was well-known for his temper, especially when he thought he was being crossed. Trying to cheat me was not automatically the same as trying to cross Nicco, but there were times when the lines between his and my interests blurred. This wasn't one of them, but I wasn't about to let Shatters know that.
"Do we have an understanding?" I said. Shatters nodded his head as gently as he could, given the dagger at his throat.
"Good." I withdrew the blade and turned away, leaving Shatters to gather himself while I went to see Athel the Grinner.
If I had had any second thoughts about treating Shatters roughly, they vanished as soon as I saw what was left of the Grinner. The Agonyman and his boys had moved on from Athel's hands and feet after I'd left; now, there was precious little left on the smuggler that was not torn, cut, or mutilated in some way. Just seeing him hurt. Worst of all, he was still conscious… and looking at me.
I kept my bile down, not for Athel's sake, but because I wasn't about to give Shatters the satisfaction. I took a deep breath, ran a hand down my mustache and goatee, and stepped over to the barrel.
Athel's breathing was ragged and wet sounding. One eye was swollen shut, but the other managed to keep me in sight as I came up beside him. I expected hatred there, or anger, or madness—anything but what I seemed to see: calm. Not the false serenity brought on by shock, or the stillness of exhaustion, but a quiet, almost-composed ease. I felt myself shudder beneath that placid gaze.
Athel the Grinner, I realized as I met his eye, was done. There was nothing more we could do to make him talk; nothing left he was willing to tell us before he died. Letting Ioclaudia's name out had probably been an accident, or a gift, and he wasn't about to let that happen again—his gaze told me as much.
I crouched down beside him, keeping my knees out of the blood that covered the floor. He blinked his good eye slowly, briefly. After a moment, I realized he was winking.
I reached for my own blade and found I still had Shatters's knife in my hand. Athel followed my look, then turned his lone eye back to me. He grinned as I cut his throat.
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Meet the Author
Douglas Hulick has been reading fantasy literature for almost as long as he can remember. He suspects this penchant for far-away lands of yore led, in part, to his acquiring a B.A. and M.A. in Medieval History, and likewise to his subsequent study and teaching of European Historical Martial Arts. It most certainly helped result in his authoring several novels, including Among Thieves: A Tale of the Kin.
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After just completing the Ranger's Apprentice series i went on the hunt for something new and something fresh. I was tired of the predictable story lines from all of the "teen-reads" and wanted something that could really get me thinking, without it being insanely difficult to understand. I picked this up, expecting predictable but interesting and was surprised to find it was the opposite. (Not on the interesting part at least.) I was a little taken back by the extensive use of swearing but was so intrigued by this story i kept reading.And i'm really glad i did. I absolutely loved how it was a world all in its own, using phrases and words and names that were different from what we're used to. It really brings out the sense of a new world and of a new adventure, filled with lies, broken promises and betrayal. So pick up this book and read it! You won't regret it.
The one thing that this book really has going for it is pacing...and that's really about it. The characters are developed well enough, I guess, but few are sympathetic and sometimes they're behavior a little questionable. The "cant" that the criminals use is a very slim vocabulary even though the author left a note at the beginning about it, making it seem as if it were everywhere, and some is not explained, while most of it sounds like kid talk. The tropes he uses for this fantasy world with a criminal element within a great imperial city are very cliched. (Really, that's what tropes are, but there's doing it right and not doing it right and Hulick fell in the latter.) Some of the actions that came as surprises weren't explained as soon as I would have liked, either. But despite all that the plot still wasn't bad and I couldn't stop turning the pages. I'd like to see where this goes, but without major improvements in the author's writing ability, I won't read past his next book.
This is, far and above, the best book I've read in YEARS. I can honestly say it's become my new most favorite. When I found out that "Among Thieves" was Hulick's first foray into writing, I was utterly astounded. If you like fast paced stories with quick witted characters, you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't pick it up. The story follows a criminal character more fleshed out than most, not wholly good nor evil, but much more believable for not being so cookie cutter. The plot is fast paced with well written action where the author's knowledge of period weaponry really shines, detailing out not just how the scene unfolds but also why. The language of the book is littered with various Thieve's Cant and mafioso terms that are quickly picked up on by the reader making for a unique read that also helps to accentuate the slowly rotting underbelly of the city it all takes place in. The setting is what's commonly referred to as 'dark' or 'low' fantasy, in that while magic exists and it's a medieval era of a different world map, it's realistic, gritty, lacking in elves or dwarves or orcs, etc. Even the magic that does exist is kept relatively downplayed. Otherwise look forward to a fast paced romp through an imperial city reminiscent of ancient Rome, visiting its seedier portions while on the dodge from enemies both known and unknown, trying to figure out what's going on and stop it before a gang war tears the city apart. Give it a chance, and I promise you'll be thoroughly impressed, immersed in a place and people you can't wait to read about more!
Douglas Hulick's debut leaps into the genre territory recently occupied by Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, and others. Hulick's world is filled with thieves, liars, traitors and toughs, with overlapping and conflicting agendas. Drothe is his crime boss' version of Internal Affairs, paid to keep tabs on other members of The Kin, the criminal underwold in Ildrecca. He gets caught up in a turf war between former allies and winds up in possession of an artifact that could topple empires. The things I find most striking about this book are the way that the thieves' cant suffuses the entire novel and the fight scenes. Hulick has mentioned that Among Thieves was born when he found a dictionary of thieves' cant, and the love for language is evident throughout the book. The cant phrases are peppered through the book, building up gradually until I'm happily reading entire passages that are neck-deep in cant like I've been reading it for a year. The other biggest standout for me is the fencing. Hulick studies renaissance martial arts, and his knowledge is well-showcased here. The fights are well-choreagraphed and cinema-clear. For readers who enjoy a gritty fantasy, con artists and/or fencing, Among Thieves is a fantastic ride that delivers every step of the way. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
The book starts slow and pulls you in as you learn more about Drothe's world and the plot begins to unfold and as each new complication comes up your never sure how things will turn out. Love having a character that can sword fight but isn't the best in the world / can overcome everything with brute force. Drothe feels more real to me as a character because he genuinely struggles and like in real fights against skilled opponents rarely makes it out unscathed. He has to rely as much on wits and his underworld contacts as he does on his sword. An excellent read if you want a world with fast paced gritty action where trying your best doesn't always ensure success.
Very good book to read it starts out kind of slow but picks without a doubt gets very entertaining. The rise of a regular guy with no average intelligence and combat abilities rises to a grey prince its an awesome and motivating story in that retrospect. All though a lot of the history and background information was kind of rushed thru it was still a good read.
Great crime fantasy with several unique twists.
I love this book. I am a bookworm and I can count on one hand the number of series where I felt that I must read the next book, and this is one of them. Drothe is such a superman without the superpowers but on the wrong side of the law. The underdog paranoia is so well done that I felt like I was walking on eggshells. The book is not perfect and at times is a bit slow but is so worth the read. I think I read this in 2009 or 2010...got it in random book haul because local borders was going out of business and I have been waiting for the sequel ever since. Looked up author several times, called amazon and bugged b&n manager of 2 different stores to find out why the second book was not out....and last month finally got to preorder it. XD
Normally I'm not into a story like this one, but this one is an exception. I fell in love with this book. I really liked how it was in Drothe's point of view and he was telling the story. Drothe was very well developed and so were the most of the other characters. I really loved the friendship he had with Degan, which is why I was upset that it ended by the end of the book. It had a lot of twists and turns and kept your interest during the whole thing, making you wonder what Drothe was planning or what kind of trouble he would get into next. The only thing I didn't like about this book is kinda how it ended. I didn't care for how Drothe started betraying everybody he was close to by the end of the book. It just seemed like after Drothe betrayed Degan leaving him to fight a battle he probably couldn't win, even if he was taken against his will, he just seemed to make a lot of decisions I didn't like, even if he was just trying to save himself and the whole thing he works for in the end. It kinda made me wish that he could have went after Degan and worked things out since they had such a good friendship. I'm looking forward to the next book and hope that he can mend his friendship with Degan.
The best part of this book is the quality of the mastery and adventure. The author keeps you guessing down a twisted trail of clues and epic sword fights, all against a backdrop of clever banter and snarky humor. Not a horribly deep or metaphorical read, it has the engrossing, escapist prose perfect for a dreary afternoon and a glass of wine.
Definitely a good read.
Enjoyed every minute of this book.