The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

10/10 Brisk pacing, loads of snark, punchy dialogue, stylized characters, and unrelenting scenes of gaga mayhem.

I’ve struggled with how to start this review of Christopher Buehlman’s The Blacktongue Thief because I want to give it the recognition it deserves. So I’ll just go with this: it’s damn fine reading. I loved it.

Kinch Na Shannack is a thief-in-training with a couple of tricks up his sleeve, which might not matter much considering how far behind he is in student loans. And the debtors just happen to be the most powerful, far-reaching organization in the world. But Kinch has a chance to dig his way out, and finds himself in the midst of a continent-spanning mission where he crosses paths with witches, warriors, sky beasts, polymorphing assassins, giant monsters of land, sea and air, and, well… saying too much more will ruin the surprises, of which there are many. And I mean, many. This novel is page-turning feast of chaos and adventure that I didn’t want to end.

What held my attention, from the first page to the last, was how smooth the reading experience felt while blending elements of brisk pacing, loads of snark, punchy dialogue, stylized characters, and unrelenting scenes of gaga mayhem.

What a fabulous kingdom the mind is, and you the emperor of all of it. You can bed the duke’s wife and have the duke strangled in your mind. A crippled man can think himself a dancer, and an idiot can fool himself wise.

Some highlighted passages caused me to laugh, pushed the story forward, and offered nuggets of quotable wisdom or some form of innovation—all within a sentence or two.

Kinch’s narrative voice finds a balance between wise-assery and wisdom, using snappy and succinct dialogue to get his messages delivered. Big twists drop with sudden shots to the gut. Yet the grim severity of events are usually offset by Kinch’s gallows humor, materializing as inside jokes between narrator and reader.

The smell of old whale fat hung about the ship like perfume in a whore’s drapes.

But not all is adventure, mystery, comedy and grim tidings. There’s also a healthy dose of poetry and songs scattered throughout the story, and they enrich the ever-expanding environment with music, lore, humor, and other intangibles. Since the bulk of the story is a road trip, each stop along the way feels fresh with promise. The continent itself appears to be loosely based on Western Europe, with comparable languages and cultural swagger.

I must call attention to a two-page chapter that tells the story of a fallen city. It somehow built up my sense of wonder then immediately flushed my emotions down a sinkhole. Two pages was all it took. I’m singling it out because not only can it serve as a standalone story on its own, but I also think it’s a good microcosm of what this book can do a reader. While this passage doesn’t quite include the humor that the rest of the book offers, it shows me how Buehlman can claw you in when he wants to and drag your empathy wherever he wants it to go.

Only the strong, the rich, and the dying think truth is a necessity; the rest of us know it for a luxury.

I didn’t find much fault in this story. There’s an inherent ability a character has that could be viewed as a plot device, but its originality and the balance of its consequences even out the score. Regardless of any nitpicks, Kinch quickly became one of my favorite first-person characters in as long as I can remember, and its supporting cast of deep, rich characters combined with Buehlman’s creativity and wit brought this exciting book to life. I give The Blacktongue Thief my highest recommendation.

Publishing May 2021 with Tor Books.

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