The problem with Among Thieves is that it is two great novels fighting against each other to make one merely good book. Drothe is a classic lovable rogue; he’s an information dealer with interesting relatives, a homicidal best friend, and a bit of an attitude. The parts of the story where he interacts with his informants, navigates the obligations of the kin (fantasy mob), and tries to avoid being knifed are amongst the best examples of a fantasy underworld I’ve seen. At the same time, the high fantasy story of an empire ruled by a triumvirate of serially reincarnating emperors who are becoming erratic and beginning to hate each other hold endless promise.
Unfortunately, where these two stories overlap is where the wheels fall off. In order to burnish Drothe’s bona fides, the story opens with him torturing someone for information on a stolen object, which, as well as being a distasteful way to kick things off, is also at odds with the character as he is presented later. As the story goes on and the Mcguffin pulls the two stories together, Drothe, a character defined by his unusual loyalty to his subordinates and allies, seems to vacillate between the greater good and personal self interest as the plot requires. This culminates in the end with him earning a status that seems a narrative stretch, presumably in furtherance of the high fantasy ambitions of the series.
Still, everything from the rich history of the empire, to the magic of the immigrant community creates such an immersive sense of place, that combined with a pretty good main character, and a very readable style, makes this a somewhat breezy pleasure.
A good book that would have been great with either less ambition, or more commitment to making the character consistent.1
Note: If you did like this book, the best example of fantasy crime fiction is still the Lies of Locke Lamorra, even if the sequels have been disappointing.