Among Thieves has many sterling qualities. It is fast paced, witty and has a great sense of timing. Its best qualities however are found in its dialogue and its extremely limited scope-- and by scope I mean viewpoint, setting and time. By these criteria, this narrative is positively claustrophobic. Dialgoue serves as a narrative lubricant for for the stories dense precision movments.
Almost the entire narrative is told from a single viewpoint, that of the main character Drothe. The story takes place not just in a single city, that would be an overkill, but in one of only eight or nine locations and that is probably a generous estimate. If that wasn’t enough, Douglas Hulick squeezes his creation’s existence into a handful of days.
I am wont to believe that Douglas Hulick is an adherent of the old tenet “Limitation Breeds Creativity.” Whereas an epic fantasist has no limits and instead can wander to and fro over the land like an errant breeze, Douglas Hulick takes a sliver of the land and fashions a cameo. Slowly revealing each layer and each color, its ultimate pattern only he knows until it is complete.
Among Thieves is that tiny sliver. Drothe is a member of a criminal organization, loosely analogous to the Mafia. He gathers intelligence for his boss and dabbles in holy relics on the side. That is where the story starts, on a small side job of little importance. From such small beginnings, the story begins to unfold...one colorful layer at a time.
The narrative stays cramped and narrow like the streets of Ildrecca, the book’s setting. Each turn is a blind turn and when you take it, you are ambushed by the narrative. In such a way the narrative continually unfolds, one chip at a time, adding layer upon layer in rich colorful complexity. The finished story is a marvel and when you finish the book, it takes a while for it all to sink in and register.
Keeping the confining story from grinding itself to a halt, is the dialogue. Dialogue is what ultimately keeps this story moving and allows for such a limited scope. The dialogue is why I love this book. It is why the book is never boring. Where the epic fantasist is given credit for the difficulty of weaving multiple viewpoints, I also view it as a luxury. When the action in one view points begins to slow, you can swap to a second and keep the action going. When you are limited to a single viewpoint, you are never allowed a break. When there is a slow point in the action, you have to cover it with dialogue. In these in-between moments, Douglas Hulick shines. In these interstitial segments, Drothe’s character is explored. As Drothe moves from one action sequence to the next, he continually interacts with people.
It is through this interaction and dialogue that Drothe’s complex character is revealed. Just as the plot slowly unfolds, so is Drothe slowly revealed. Douglas undeniably loves his creation. It is obvious that he has spent much time in crafting the Drothe as the centerpiece to his narrative. So in cabaret burlesque fashion, he teases you, revealing his creation bit by bit. Even by the end of the show...you have not seen everything.
I loved Among Thieves. I will re-read this book. In all likelihood it will end up being one of my all time favorites. I have only covered part of what makes Among Thieves great. It is packed with action. The plot will make your head spin. The dialogue will make you laugh out loud. The characters are unforgettable. When you put the book down, you want to pick it right back up. Just read the book. Because once you have, it will sit in your mind like a cameo. Your mind will run its fingers over the books artistry and marvel at the creativity involved in teasing such beauty from such a limited canvas.
Penguin: Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased Paperback