By: M. J. Kuhn
Publisher: Saga Press
With a strong female protagonist, Ryia Cautella, Among Thieves is a unique and fantastic debut fantasy novel by M.J. Kuhn. The action starts from page one and doesn’t let up until the last page. The story takes place in Carrowick, a part of Thamorr. Each part of Thamorr is ruled by various kings. However, the real power of Thamorr lies with the Guildmaster, and it is all tied into the magic system of the novel. It is a very clever system that Ms. Kuhn has developed. The Guildmaster has the ability to know when a child is born with magic. When they are, they are taken from their parents by the age of one to be trained as an Adept. For this reason, most parents do not name their children until after their first year as they must give up their children to the Guildmaster if they possess magic. How he knows, the reader does come to find out. Those who are the strongest will stay with the Guildmaster, those who are not, become devoid of all emotion and sold to nobles at an auction. It is also unknown how the Guildmaster strips these Adepts of their humanity. Adepts possess one of two types of magic: the Kinetics, who have unnatural strength and speed, or the Sensers, who can smell physical danger and the intent to harm. I thought it was incredibly ingenious to have Adepts who move quickly and are unnaturally strong to be called Kinetics, as kinetic energy is the energy of motion.
When we meet Ryia, we know there is something special about her. She can scale walls that are seemingly impossible. She wields axes with incredible accuracy. Her reputation has earned her the name “The Butcher of Carrowick.” Ryia works for a gang called the Saints, and her role is that of an “enforcer.” But how does Ryia do the seemingly impossible? As the story unfolds, we find that she has been pursued by the Guildmaster most of her life. She has bounced around from place to place, never staying too long. No matter where she goes, he always seems to find her and she is on the run again. It is Ryia’s dream to be free of him.
Rounding out the Saints is the leader Callum Clem; Claudia Nash, the navigator; Ivan Rezkoye, the master of disguise and forgery; and Tristan, the street-wise pickpocket. Crossing Clem will result in him sending his Butcher, Ryia, for you. Later, the Saints are joined by the disgraced Captain from the Needle Guard, Evelyn Linley. How she fits into this band of thieves unfolds into a very interesting storyline.
The Saints plan to go to the island of the Guildmaster where every year he holds an Adept auction. All nobles throughout Thamorr will be there. They plan to steal something of great value, whose pay-off will secure the Saints place as leaders of the gangs of Carrowick. It’s an insane and dangerous plan, but one Ryia is willing to go on in order to face the Guildmaster and gain her freedom. The trip to the island and what happens there is first-rate action. There are so many twists and turns that I never saw coming. Ms. Kuhn writes excellent action scenes and knows how to keep the reader on edge.
The prose flows nicely. Each chapter focuses on one character, but it is never confusing. When this type of narrative is done well, as it is in Among Thieves, each chapter ends off in a cliffhanger until the reader returns to the character. The narrative kept me engaged throughout the book. I was able to read each character’s story arc and how fully developed they were. Each chapter reveals a little more about each of them, and there some very big surprises in store.
The characters are very well done. Although she is called The Butcher of Carrowick, Ryia does what she does to survive. She cares very much for Tristan, but her relationship to others struck me as business-like. They are in a gang and each person has their role. Ryia, given how she has lived, does not trust anyone. She is a strong female protagonist, doing things the reader may not like, but she does them nonetheless. Ryia is a survivor, waiting for the day she can have her freedom. She carries out her “orders” from Callum with detached efficiency. These are characteristics often seen in male protagonists. Ryia as an LGBTQI+ character is alluded too as she says she does not like men. She teases the female characters, but the reader gets the sense that she is not teasing. While her reputation is the Butcher, she is not an unlikable character. As her story is revealed, the reader comes to understand her and how she became who she is. Ryia was revealed like a puzzle, piece by piece
The rest of the characters fit in well to their roles, with Nash, also a strong female, who has her own ship and is an expert navigator. Ivan has feeling for Nash, but Nash is often with Callum, so he keeps his distance. He is an expert at what he does, and his skills are invaluable. Evelyn is another strong female character. As a disgraced Captain, how she comes to help the Saints is one of the most interesting threads in the novel. Her development as a character is spot on. Callum is smart, calculating, cold, and will do anything to keep control. Is he insane as to what he wants to do? Perhaps it is up to the reader to decide.
Among Thieves is an excellent debut novel by M.J. Khune. It has all the elements that makes a great fantasy. The character development is fantastic. There are three strong female protagonists in the book. Ryia, the main character, has a fully developed story arc. She has characteristics that one would often see in male protagonists and she really is an amazingly well-done character. The prose is beautifully done, with each chapter focusing on one character at a time. The chapters are woven together to move the story forward with well-paced action interspersed with character interaction. The idea of Adept magic called Kinetics and Sensers is a unique magic system to add into the fantasy genre. Overall, Among Thieves is an excellent debut novel by M.J. Khune. I highly recommend it.
Summary (from NetGalley)
In just over a year’s time, Ryia Cautella has already earned herself a reputation as the quickest, deadliest blade in the dockside city of Carrowwick—not to mention the sharpest tongue. But Ryia Cautella is not her real name.
For the past six years, a deadly secret has kept her in hiding, running from town to town, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster—the sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. No matter how far or fast she travels, his servants never fail to track her down…but even the most powerful men can be defeated.
Ryia’s path now leads directly into the heart of the Guildmaster’s stronghold, and against every instinct she has, it’s not a path she can walk alone. Forced to team up with a crew of assorted miscreants, smugglers, and thieves, Ryia must plan her next moves very carefully. If she succeeds, her freedom is won once and for all…but unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is, and they all have plans of their own.