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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn - Review

OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE

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OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: M. J. Kuhn is a fantasy writer by night and a mild-mannered office worker by day. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and a very spoiled cat named Thorin Oakenshield. Less than a year into her life as a full-time office-worker she began using her nights and lunch breaks to work on her first novel, and she hasn’t looked back since. When she isn’t reading or writing you can find her playing the piano, weightlifting, or anxiously awaiting the next installment of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

FORMAT/INFO: Among Thieves will be published by Saga Press on September 7th, 2021. It is 352 pages split over 39 chapters and an epilogue. It is told in third person from multiple POVs, including Ryia, Nash, Tristan, and more. It is available in ebook, hardcover, and audiobook formats. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ryia has a secret, one the Guildmaster of Thamorr would kill to keep hidden. That’s why she’s been on the run for the last six years, moving from city to city to stay one step ahead of his agents. In her latest stop, she’s fallen in with a gang known as the Saints, where uses her many axes to great effect as the Saints’ enforcer. But when the Saints get wind of a contract to steal an artifact from the Guildmaster, Ryia realizes the magic item is the key to being free of the Guildmaster once and for all. She’ll have to betray her crew in the process, but she’s willing to make that sacrifice for her freedom. Unfortunately for Ryia, every other thief on the job has a reason to take the artifact for themselves – so who will betray who first?

Among Thieves is a fun escapist heist adventure with an excellent set-up, though the characters run a little thin. The author does a great job of painting a world where magic users are essentially enslaved from birth, scooped up by the Guildmaster’s minions to be trained for a life of servitude to the highest bidder. Magic users come in two varieties: Kinetics, with enhanced strength and occasional telekinetic abilities, and Sensors, who can detect when someone is planning harm. Both Kinetics and Sensors exhibit no will or personality of their own, merely following their magically-branded owner’s instructions. Seeing the ways Ryia’s found to exploit this lack of initiative is fun, but running afoul of a Kinetic can have deadly consequences.

The heist elements themselves were a good time, with plenty of misdirection, false identities, and of course, carefully laid plans gone horribly wrong. These parts were the highlight of the book, enhanced by the fact that the author does a great job of establishing reasons for each crew member to want to or need to betray the rest of the crew, providing plenty of tension. The one element of the plotting that felt a bit off is that this book is currently a standalone, but it is very much full of cliffhangers and unresolved plot lines. I’m sure the author has hopes of returning to this world and continuing the story, but if this ends up being the only book in the series, the ending proves unsatisfying. Should the author get to write a sequel, however, there’s plenty of set-up for the next adventure.

The other element that felt a little lacking to me was the character depth. For those of you just here for the heist, there’s enough on the page to get you through the story and you’ll still have a great time. But it felt like there was a lot of telling instead of showing about how various relationships developed. I didn’t feel the group growing tighter as a crew, though multiple characters remark on how the job has made them a family. And I didn’t really buy the romantic relationships. There just weren’t enough beats for me to see or feel those emotional developments, leaving me slightly underwhelmed.

CONCLUSION: At the end of the day, however, I did have a good time reading Among Thieves, and I admit that the author kept me on my toes with some of their twists. It’s an entertaining escape, but one made less memorable by characters that could have used a little more time to develop and shine. But if you need a new fantasy heist story for your TBR, AMONG THIEVES is worth giving a read!

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