Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.
But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.
Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.
Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.
I write reviews, if you’re here today reading this review, it means hopefully by now you might have read a couple of my other reviews. If that’s true, then you’re going to read todays piece and I imagine you will probably think something along the lines of “Oh Dale, you are such a loveable and handsome fool”. Now most of that sentence is fairly self-explanatory, but why am I a fool you may ask? Because I’m going to make a proclamation that Ive made multiple times already this year, and since I feel the need to defend myself, I’m going to continue to blame the authors of these books for my foolishness. So, in a second when I once again make my great proclamation, I’m going to add a cliff note just to help with future reviews.
The Blacktongue Thief is the best book of 2021. *
And you know what? Before I started reviewing books, I didn’t have this issue, I just read a book and when it was done, I would go “Oh fuck me, that was really good, I’m sad its over” and on to the next one. Now days I can’t do that, I have to think about the books as I read, and then afterwards I write some jumbled words on why you should read it too. So here, enjoy my jumbled words on why once again this might be my favourite book of 2021.
Before the community started whispering in excitement about The Blacktongue Thief I had never heard of Chris Buehlman, he is better known in the Horror community, and it best known for his book Between Two Fires. Chris’s debut into the world of high fantasy managed to land him a spot on nearly every most anticipated list of 2021 apart from mine apparently. I’m actually somewhat doubly a fool right now, because at no point did I ever pick up on the hype for this book, but least I rectified that.
The Blacktongue Thief is the story of Kinch Na Shannock, who is funnily enough, our thief. Kinch owes the Thieves guild a few coins for the training they gave him, and this debt has driven him to lay in wait, next to some old dingey forest road waiting for some poor sod to walk past so he and his acquaintances can rob them. Unluckily for Kinch, that poor sod turns out to be Galva, Handmaiden of the Goddess of Death, a survivor of the Goblin wars that decimated the lands and a one of the best Spanth Knights in the land. Obviously, the robbery goes wrong very quickly and instead Kinch suddenly finds his life intertwined with that of Galva’s as he follows her on her grand quest to find her Queen.
I could outrun the Spanth, but not the bird.
I pissed myself a little, I’m not ashamed to tell you.
“Archer,” she said in that r-tapping Ispanthian accent. “Come out and help your friends.”
That they weren’t really my friends wasn’t a good enough reason to leave them maimed and wrecked on the white road, nor was the fact they deserved it.
There’s a ton of reasons why this book is superb, but I’m going to focus on the three things that really hit the spot for me. Humour in books isn’t something I overly care about, most fantasy these days has some elements of grimdark and don’t really need you to have a chuckle. However, that hasn’t stopped Nicholas Eames becoming a community favourite in the last few years, his books being to the genre like what the Guardians of the Galaxy films did for the MCU. Eames books are funny, they are books that make you laugh out loud, a book that makes you chuckle at every chapter, at the same time he manages to write a book that keeps its tensions growing, that’s filled with action and uniqueness throughout. Buehlman takes this to a new level as far as I’m concerned, Ive never laughed as much while reading as I did during my read of The Blacktongue Thief, I found myself telling random people who have zero interest in these books about the jokes just because I enjoyed it so much and I will forever think the “Brown Magic” paragraph will be one of the best things Ive ever read to this day.
I was half a heartbeat from pitying him, but my face still stung from his bastard hand, so I said “You can have another slap at me, as far as the guilds concerned. Seems a shame you wasted your first one doing so little harm, you fatherless kark.”
A kark is a wet fart, by the way, if you’ve never been to Galtia or Norholt. The kind you think will be one thing but it turns out to be the other, to your shame and sorrow.
The Second thing that I just found spectacular throughout but something that very much divided the readers of this book was Buehlman’s method of giving the reader information. Info dumping isn’t something that most people enjoy, massive slabs of information bang in the middle of the chapter takes you away from the story, it often feels jarring and unnatural, I saw numerous tweets about how this put people off during their own reads. However, don’t decide to end this review now and avoid this book, Buehlman is one of the few authors were Ive found this method not only works but is incredibly enjoyable, managing to make the large bits of information he delivers funny and genuinely interesting. These sections having such an important part to building the world we found ourselves in and giving it such a tremendous amount of depth. Even more amazingly, he managed to do it all without slowing down the pace at all, everything written felt important and necessary and I genuinely wish more books were written with this style.
Last on that list is a simple one, Kinch himself. We all know by now that I love a single POV story, and Kinch may be one of the single most enjoyable characters Ive ever had the pleasure of reading. I knew on the very first page that Kinch was going to be a character I loved, and I knew by the end of the first chapter that I was correct. Kinch is incredibly sarcastic, hilariously pessimistic but yet a man that gets up and faces everything that comes his way with a smile, and even with the humour and ridiculousness that is Kinch, I think the author did something that is rare for this type of book which was give you a character you genuinely cared about still. Buehlman wrote a person I would love to know, albeit I’m sure it wouldn’t be a relationship that would go amazingly well for me, but I would love to meet this man regardless.
What a fabulous kingdom the mind is, and you the Emperor of all of it. You can bed the dukes wife and have the duke strangled in your mind. A crippled man can think himself a dancer, and an idiot can fool himself wise. The day a Magicker peeks into the thoughts of commoners for some thin-skinned duke or king will be a bad day. Those with callused hands will rise on that day, for a man will only toil in a mine so long as he can dream of sunny fields, and he’ll only kneel for a tyrant if he can secretly cut that tyrants throat in the close theatre of his bowed head.
Ive written what I believe makes up a good book before, the need for interesting and intriguing characters, a compelling and imaginative plot, a world that feels well put together and unique in its way, in fantasy we normally want a magic system that feels different from the usual rehashed classics. Buehlman did all of this and vastly more. Not only was Kinch incredible, but we also got a supporting cast that were all incredibly beautifully written and entertaining, I would have loved to read the POV from any one of them. We got a plot that twisted and turned masterfully, keeping you on your toes and always making you want to turn to the next page, constantly funny and constantly exciting. We got a world that went beyond what most authors manage, Buehlman writing a fascinating world that feels rich with history and culture, plus creatures and races that we’ve seen many times over manging to feel that slight bit different. And we got that magic system we wanted, we got something wonderfully intriguing, magical tattoos and hidden traits that I won’t ruin for you by discussing further.
It proved a blessing we oiled our leathers. It rained like a bastard as we took the North road toward Norholt, the kind of rain that wets you in no time at all and just keeps at you until there’s nothing dry about you. The Kind of rain that makes you feel you’re just a turd the gods are trying to wash off the road.
I honestly can’t wait for the second book in this trilogy but in case the idea of having to wait is putting you off at all, this book is easy to read as a standalone, we get a fantastic conclusion to the main plotline Buehlman writes that doesn’t leave us on a massive cliff-hanger, and I will forever love an author that doesn’t leave us in pain at the end of a book.
This is my book of 2021, and I would incredibly surprised if that changes.