Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn has been making a splash on booktok, so I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. Ever since I read The Lies of Locke Lamora many years ago, I have been a big fan of fantasy heist novels. However, I have sometimes found that I do not agree with popular sentiment surrounding the genre. For example, I was not a huge fan of Six of Crows, which is a top pick for many in the fantasy heist space. Please keep that in mind as I share my mixed feelings about Among Thieves.
The plot of Among Thieves is your typical fantasy heist fare with some original Kuhn twists that differentiate it. Our protagonist is Ryia, a thief with a mysterious past who finds herself in a situation where she needs to steal a McGuffin from a powerful man. She teams up with a group of lowlife individuals who all have their own agendas, and they all must navigate their personal goals with their growing attachment for the squad. Where the originality comes in is in the protagonist, the setting, the prose, and the heist itself.
The characters of this story are a very mixed bag. Ryia is fabulous, and I greatly enjoyed her voice in the story. She is a loud bruiser who uses magic to fight with reinforced hatchets. She eschews the traditional stealthy and shadowy thief archetype as well as the charismatic and charming thief type. Her wit is charming and she has a nice complexity plus a compelling backstory with a solid balance of mystery and intrigue to keep the reader bought in. In addition, Cal, the leader of this crew of rogues, was an excellent support character with mysterious allegiances. He added a wonderful tension to the book, providing a great foil to the other characters. But with the rest of the cast, we encounter some issues.
Ryia, technically, isn’t the only protagonist in the story. The POV is split between Ryia and three other members of the crew who all get a lot of page space. The problem? These three other protagonists are so incredibly bland that I literally cannot even remember what their names are, and I was constantly confused about which was which while reading. I don’t want to belabor this point, as I did like a lot of things about Among Thieves, but I am extremely thankful that Ryia gets the most time as the central voice because I honestly couldn’t care less about the rest of the crew. You might feel differently, but it was a major issue for me throughout the story.
Onto more great things. The world and magic are interesting. The setting is a series of island guilds all run by a grandmaster from the center of the web of islands. The grandmaster controls a series of mutants with powers that range from extrasensory perception, super strengths, and telekinesis. By selling these mutants to the various guilds, but keeping the strongest individuals for their personal army, they keep a tight leash on all the islands. Even if they get past all the henchmen, the grandmaster themselves is imbued with all three sets of abilities, making them a powerful and dangerous antagonist that commands the setting. I also liked Kuhn’s creative usage of a small handful of powers. It made the world feel lived in and functional in a very warm and homey way. The other great thing about Kuhn’s writing is her quick and energetic prose. The action feels kinetic and exciting, the pacing is fast and compelling, and the style is very conducive to a thief’s story. This style allows Kuhn to hoodwink the reader in their distracted state, giving her space play an intricate shell game with clever clues and red herring without the shells. The book is definitely fun, which is a very important characteristic in this style of novel.
All in all, Among Thieves is an entertaining book and a nice break from some of the heavier content I have read this year. My major gripe is that I wish it was a little more memorable and that Ryia didn’t have to do so much of the heavy character lifting. With a more robust cast of voices, I would have devoured this book much more eagerly, but it still was an enjoyable read. If you like heist novels, you can certainly do worse.
Rating: Among Thieves – 7.0/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.