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Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman - Review


Official Author Website
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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Christopher Buehlman is a writer and performer based in St. Petersburg, Florida. He is the winner of the 2007 Bridport Prize in Poetry and a finalist for the 2008 Forward Prize for best poem (UK). He spent his twenties and thirties touring renaissance festivals with his very popular show Christophe the Insultor, Verbal Mercenary. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in French Language from Florida State University, where he minored in History. He enjoys theater, independent films, chess, archery, running, cooking with lots of garlic, and thick, inky, bone-dry red wines with sediment at the bottom.

FORMAT/INFO: The Blacktongue Thief was published on May 25th, 2021 by Tor Books. It is 413 pages split over 65 chapters. It is told in the first person from Kinch's POV. It is available in hardcover, audiobook, and ebook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: When Kinch’s band of thieves tries to rob a lone woman on the roads, it becomes very apparent they’ve messed with the wrong target. The woman is Galva, a veteran of the Goblin Wars and a deadly fighter. Kinch escapes with his life, but quickly finds himself in an even more awkward position. The Takers, the guild of thieves Kinch belongs to, is very interested in Galva’s mission, and they want Kinch to tag along on her journey. And since Kinch is in debt to the guild for all the training they gave him, he has very little choice but to do as they say. But convincing Galva to partner with him is the easy part. Surviving a journey littered with mad wizards, kraken, giants, goblins and more is a whole other story.

The Blacktongue Thief is a tale rife with original world-building that somehow didn’t quite ensnare me as much as I hoped. There’s plenty in the book to keep people hooked, and if you’re looking for a story about a handful of people on a quest, this might be a great read for you to while away the time with. As for me, while I found the world the author created fascinating, it was a bit too dry in its delivery to fully immerse me.

Let’s start with the world-building, one of the highlights of the book. Buehlman has created an almost post-apocalyptic fantasy, a world decimated by wars that killed vast numbers of men and forced the various countries to acknowledge that maybe women were decent fighters too; in fact, one of the later wars was called the Daughters War because it was primarily fought by women. I loved the little details of how men of a certain age with no scarring were viewed with suspicion as draft-dodgers, as nearly everyone during a certain window of time served in the Goblin Wars at some point, and more people died than came back. I liked the reverence given to horses, as they were all but wiped out due to plagues introduced by the goblins. I liked the magic, including Kinch’s special brand of “luck” that allows him to sense when things are more likely to go his way and when they’re more likely to turn against him.

But while there were a lot of details I liked, there were frequent times where the book could just feel dry and overly laden with exposition. Paragraphs about the different kinds of currency or what one kingdom in particular did during the goblin wars failed to engage me. World-building is usually one of my favorite elements of a book, so I have a high tolerance for info-dumping, but for some reason that pages that were more history than plot didn’t work for me this go-round.

That said, the moment to moment adventures of The Blacktongue Thief were enjoyable. The book is basically a road trip movie, a collection of all the disasters that happen to Kinch, Galva, and the rest of the crew on their way to find a missing queen. I did enjoy the collection of characters they picked up along the way, particularly Norrigal, a young sorceress who could sometimes be a little overenthusiastic when using her magic and cause harm to friend and foe alike.

I also want to make a note that perhaps one reason I bounced a bit off this book was the humor could be fairly crude at times, which isn’t my style. It is chock full of references to bodily functions and every kind of cursing imaginable, something that made it a bit harder for me to get into than it might have been otherwise. If this kind of humor doesn’t bother you, you may find the writing to your liking more than I did!

CONCLUSION: The Blacktongue Thief has a lot of elements going for it that just didn’t quite come together in a way that knocked the story out of the park. I can point to plenty of things the author did well, yet I just didn’t find the emotional connection that makes me fully invested in a series. That said, there are plenty of readers and reviewers out there who loved and adored this book (including co-blogger Lukasz, check out his review HERE), so this may be a very big case of “It’s not you, it’s me.”

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