Reviews: Napier’s Bones and Among Thieves

I’ve been trying to read more this year, and my luck has been excellent (mostly due to the fact that I read things that come highly recommended or are written by friends).

So here are two short reviews of books I’ve read in the last couple of weeks:

Napier’s Bones by Derryl Murphy (ChiZine Press) — ISBN 9781926851099

This is a recent contemporary spec fic novel from Chizine, one of the publishers I represent (through Diamond).  It’s a weird, awesome urban fantasy kind of book where Math is magic.  A select number of people called Numerates can see and manipulate the numbers inherent in all things, traveling around the world to collect number-powered artifacts called Mojo.  Dom and Jenna, along with a Numerate ghost named Billy get swept up in a plot by a long-dead Numerate, and fight their way across three countries and two continents to prevent the ghosts of long-dead Numerates from seizing an artifact that would let them re-define reality itself.

I wasn’t expecting this book to fly like it does.  The pacing is fantastic, and made it a great book to read during plane travel.  The characters are decently defined, if not remarkable.  Strong plotting covers up many things, and I found myself happy to follow the leads through their weird Donald in Mathmagicland-esque adventures and throwing number blasts.  I was reminded of the tabletop RPG Unknown Armies, except the setting wasn’t as bleak.

 

Among Thieves: A Tale of the Kin by Douglas Hulick (Roc) — 9780451463906

Doug Hulick is a friend I met through the SCA, and his historical knowledge is put to amazing use in this premiere.  If you are a fan of Joe Abercrombie’s gritty fantasies or Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards books, you should definitely check out Doug’s premiere.  Among Thieves is the story of Drothe, a thief who works as a Nose, keeping tabs on other thieves (aka ‘The Kin’) and reporting to his boss.  Drothe is a sharp, morally grey character (grey at best.  He is not a good person, though he does have his own sense of honor, to his fellow Kin), but is very compelling and sufficiently sympathetic to make me happy to spend a book with him.

Drothe finds himself in possession of an artifact that if used by the wrong people, could swing the balance of power or even destroy the empire which his home city of Ildrecca is a member.  All Drothe wants to do is keep from getting shanked by the various factions maneuvering to obtain the book — either to destroy the book or use it to take power for themselves.

The two most notable strengths of this book for me are the thieves’ cant and the fight scenes.  Doug started Among Thieves after picking up an encyclopedia of thieves’ cant, and the love of language is evident throughout the book.  As the story moves along, Among Thieves masterfully enculturates the reader into Drothe’s version of the thieves’ cant, with shorthand, slang, and stock phrases.  By the end of the book, a reader can happily parse a whole paragraph where most all of the verbs and nouns are in the cant rather than the common tongue used by non-Kin.

And the fight scenes, oh the fight scenes.  Doug has studied renaissance martial arts extensively, and that knowledge grants his fight scenes a great sense of self-confidence and clarity.  The blocking and choreography of the fights in Among Thieves is some of the best I’ve read in years.

If you are looking for a fantasy romp with backstabbing, sneaking, rumor-mongering and a deadly game of ‘Where’s the McGuffin,’ give this book a try.

 

More reviews later if I have the time.  Right now I’m super-excited to start reading China Mieville’s Embassytown.

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