About the Book
“They butchered Corbin right out in the street. That’s how it really started. He was a rogue and a thief, of course. But then, so am I. So when he got himself hacked up in front of his house off Silk Street, I decided somebody had to be made to pay. They thought that they could just sweep him away like rubbish. They were wrong.”
Amra Thetys is a thief with morals: She won’t steal from anybody poorer than she is. Fortunately, anybody that poor generally doesn’t have much worth stealing! But when a fellow thief and good friend is killed in a deal gone wrong, Amra turns her back on burglary and goes after something far more precious: Revenge.
The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids was the first finalist in the SPFBO that I read. The cover is what gripped me. I loved it. However, it’s also the kind of book that I don’t typically read that often. The protagonist is a thief, and the book is focused on the various antics of that sort of lifestyle. It’s a lot of fun, and very well done, but I’m still a little worn out from the surge of thief focused stories years ago.
That being said, it didn’t take me long at all to see that this book was something special. Aside from the fact that Amra is a fantastic protagonist to follow, the entire book really starts taking off when the ugliest statue ever is introduced into things. That right there got me. There are very few books whose entire plot revolves around a really ugly statue of a frog.
The other thing I feel like I should mention before I continue on too far is the fact that this book contained some of the most impressive, subtle world building I’ve run across in a book. Instead of huge infodumps, McClung weaves his world building information into the plot so subtly it’s easy to miss, but it makes a huge impact. The city is more real than real, a sprawling metropolis that is full of a hodgepodge of cultures and clashing ideals. Amra’s life in the shadows give her, and readers, a unique insight into the city all around her. It’s complex, and richly layered, but she’s also an outsider looking in which gives her a rather dark and sarcastic opinion of the world around her.
As I mentioned above, Amra is a great character to follow. She is one of the reasons why I enjoyed the book so much. She’s a strong woman who makes it by on her own. She is very much a loan wolf. She knows a lot of people, but doesn’t care about any of them enough to let them in. The only somewhat close person to her ends up dying early on, and that event is the catalyst for everything else that happens. However, Amra is completely capable of weaving through the treacherous waters of the events that transpire. Despite the fact that she really isn’t close to anyone, her loyalty to those she does care about is staggering. Her one true friend ends up dying, and she uproots her entire life to make those who killed him pay. It’s really interesting to see how easy it is for her to distance herself from so many, yet how willing she is to change just about everything to make things right for those she does care about.
Amra is a lot of things that most protagonists aren’t. She’s unattractive, abrasive, and makes her living in the shadows. That’s part of her appeal. She’s nothing typical, and because of that she fits so beautifully into the city that McClung has created. She never lost her unique voice, or her dry humor. Amra really made the book. If there is a flaw, it is that Amra seems to find herself a little too capable a little too often. She makes mistakes and finds herself in some tight spots, but I never really questioned that she’d make it through because Amra almost seemed unbelievably capable in the face of all odds. However, I should make it clear that Amra does get hurt, and she does end up broken and bloody plenty of times. She isn’t perfect, and she pays for her mistakes.
Amra is, in some ways, kind of flat. She doesn’t really evolve much as a character, and in matters of character development, not a lot happens. That might bother some readers, but the truth is that anything else, any deep dark moments and staggering interpersonal growth and development would really conflict with the overall fun and adventurous tone of the book. She is nicely balanced out by some secondary characters. Holgren the mage is one of the most delightful characters in this book. He’s not your typical wizard, and I found his oddness refreshing and quite humorous. He really complimented Amra perfectly and gave a nice balance to the intensity of her character.
The plot is quick moving. I soon discovered that I was as engrossed in finding out just what happened to Corbin, the ugly statue’s purpose, and what Amra would do, as I was interested in learning more about the city that this all takes place in. It’s hard to put this book down. You’ll start it, and before you realize what happened it will be over. A large part of that is thanks to the author’s smooth, even, and absorbing prose. He dumps a lot into his sentences, and he does it in such a way that you don’t really realize all the information you’re absorbing until after the fact. There’s real skill in that. I never felt like I was hit over the head with anything. It was incredibly easy for me to sit back and enjoy the story for what it was. It was only after I finished the book that I realized just how artfully McClung wrote this book, and how much information is packed into it.
However, the plot, in a lot of ways, was pretty typical. There were some untypical aspects of it (some of which I have already mentioned), but I was never really overly surprised or on the edge of my seat with suspense. I’m not sure I was supposed to be, however. Yes, I could sort of predict most of the important parts of the book’s evolution, but this is one of those books that almost seems like you’re supposed to just sit back and enjoy the ride rather than be overly wowed by all the fancy and unpredictable plot developments. Some books are fun, and that’s not even close to being a bad thing.
The ending is well done, and ties off this story arc nicely, while leaving a lot of room for McClung to grow and develop the world, situations, and characters in future books. A lot of readers will inevitably want to move on to the next book as soon as this one has ended. I’m interested to see where McClung takes everything he developed in The Thief Who Pulls on Trouble’s Braids. There are quite a few interesting places he could take everything he started here.
This is a worthy finalist for the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. It’s the kind of book that I can sit back and enjoy for what it is. This book is fun, fast, and furious. Polished writing, an addicting protagonist, and some truly unique situations all combine to make the Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids something that’s not just fun, but also memorable. Honestly, that’s what I loved about this book the most. It is unapologetically what it is. McClung wrote a wild adventure, and obviously had a lot of fun doing it and that sense of enjoyment has bled into these pages. Is it perfect? No, but perfection is boring. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it excels at everything that is important.