Book Review: The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braid

Amra Thetys #1 by Michael McClung

I came across this book via a self-published fantasy competition reported on Mark Lawrence’s blog.  At the time, this book was a top contender, and it actually ended up winning.  I’m not surprised.

Great imagination; rich world; excellent prose; interesting characters; all-round good read.  This is a really good book.BookCoverThiefwhoPulled

Now, the lead role in the story is that of a thief – a somewhat popular angle in the modern fantasy genre.  As I go through this review, I will probably (will) end up drawing numerous comparisons to Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard series – also about thieves.  To elucidate, Scott Lynch is my favourite current fantasy writer, and he has been for a few years.  So any comparisons drawn should be viewed for what they are – compliments to Michael McClung.

To start off with, this book seems quite innocuous; clearly about thieves, and clearly about people living in the shadier parts of society.  Bad things happen, as they should do in a novel, and then we are on the path for revenge – a fine pursuit.  And this is where we start to ramp things up.  All in all, our protagonist ends up deep in a hell of a pickle, wading through problems well out of her league.  By the end of the book, we have quite the fantasy checklist: gods, and lots of them; mages; magic; a considered history; the prospect of a wide world; and dark intentions.  Brilliant.

And we even go a step further, and get a bit astrophysical on your ass – mucking about with time and space; even playing with planes of reality.  That tickled the geek in me.

So Michael plays with a variety of complex and exciting concepts, and actually knits them together really well.  Nice work.

Now for some comparisons.

I think that it’s fair to say that the Thief who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids is pretty heavy in its offering of the core concepts of Michael’s world.  This is definitely not a problem, and the steadily increasing pace makes this very readable, but a part of me wonders whether I would have liked some more cloaking.  Scott Lynch’s work is far less ‘fantastical’ on the surface, but there is something in those books that suggests a hidden agenda – and this is enticing.  I just wonder whether Michael could have played one fewer cards.

And nowhere is this highlighted better than in the addendum to the novel – a brief history of the world.  Now, to make clear, this is optional, and though I toyed with the idea of not reading on, I ultimately bit the cherry, so I can’t criticise.  And I also stand the risk of sounding hypocritical, as someone releasing material to their website before they’ve even released a book!  But I do wonder whether it would be more powerful to ‘show’ than ‘tell’, though the character who is reciting the brief history is rather excellent.  And it doesn’t stop me from either a) wanting to read on; or b) wanting to read any material that comes out about Michael’s world.  So all in all, perhaps I am trying to split hairs.  And that’s probably because there’s very little else to offer ‘constructive feedback’ on.

In other praise, Michael’s attention to detail is really rather good, and this is really rather important in a novel about thieves.  It is the details that enrich the story, and this really works here – the granularity is there, but nowhere does it become ‘for information’.  The prose is really good too, perhaps not quite Scott Lynch (I am biased), but there are some delicious threads amongst the altogether solid meat of the story.  And in fact, Michael’s control in the somewhat ‘stranger’ scenes of the book is really admirable.  It would be easy to get lost just writing those bits, but I never found myself wandering as a reader.

All in all then, a bloody good book.  I am most jealous of Michael’s abilities, and look forward to sampling the next instalment.

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