Every once in a while a book comes out that blows me away.
This is no easy feat, I’ve been reading prolifically since I was about seven. Now nearly thirty years later, I’d say I’ve read more than most. It’s not so easy to topple me from my reading perch.
To be blown away not only requires a fantastic story, superb plotting, exciting characters, and interesting world building – it also needs to be different, to push boundaries, to feel new.
The blacktongue Thief does this and more. For me, it excels in all areas.
Firstly, if we think of world building, imagine Lord of the Rings, but instead of orcs there are goblins, and instead of Gandalf there is a witch (or two), and instead of noble Aragorn there is a thief (with a bit of magic) who worships the God of Mischief….
so not very like Lord of the Rings at all… except…
The world is epic, just like Middle-Earth. There are several human kingdoms, all of which are distinct from the other, and different to the usual fantasy kingdom cultural set up. And just as Tolkien enjoyed creating languages, Christopher Buehlman has invented his own languages too – some of which involves cursing, some of which is poetry and song. There is a journey. A quest. There is love and magic.
I don’t write spoilery reviews, but just to set up the world (using content from only the first few chapters) this is a land scarred by war. Men and women both fought against the goblins and very few survived. The horses are nearly all dead, due to a plague caused by goblin magic. However, another war is looming and the human kingdoms are no longer aligned.
Kinch is a thief who owes a debt to his guild. He has more magic than most realise, though not as much as he would like. He loves money, the smell of it, the taste. He isn’t a hero. He doesn’t always do the right thing, and yet he is certainly a character worthy of following.
His travelling companion is Galva, owner of a large and dangerous bird known as a corvid. She is loyal and honourable. The opposite in many ways to Kinch, and yet this makes for an interesting dynamic.
The set up feels like many a buddy movie/ book. The Hound and Arya. Geralt of Rivia and Jaskier. This duo really excels like the duo’s I’ve mentioned. They bounce off each other, sometimes in a way of deep friendship, other times they made me laugh out loud. If anybody has read the bathtub scene, they will know what I mean.
The prose is masterful. Kinch is hilarious, and somehow Christopher Buehlman manages to keep his voice entertaining. I haven’t read a character so witty since Tyrion Lannister. However, Tyrion’s chapters were scattered within a multi-POV book. It’s difficult to tire of a voice when they don’t last for long. Kinch is able to be hilarious throughout the novel – his humour moving from dry wit, lurid cursing, and stream-of-consciousness style stories.
In terms of the magic system, it is Kinch who tells us what is going on and how the world operates. Don’t expect any Sanderson-style detailed explanations though. You will learn how the magic works bit by bit. On a need to know basis, you might say. That isn’t to say the system is haphazard or soft – it isn’t. There are strict rules, things you must remember, and layers will be added to the rules as the story progresses.
I would add this is a character driven story. The plot at times meanders, we go places that sometimes seem to have little relevance (they always matter in the end), we pick up extra characters, only to loose them a while later. I loved that about this book, because it drew me in. There is a whole chapter dedicated to a card game called Towers – which by the way somebody actually needs to make.
I left the book wanting to drink wine in Ispanthia, to play a game of Towers in a tavern in Edth. I want to avoid Molrova at all costs.
In short, I want the sequel.
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