Honor Among Thieves

Honor Among Thieves by David Chandler did not have a happy ending. It shouldn’t have. It had the absolutely correct ending. I sat stunned for several minutes after I finished, just gathering myself. Ness was a little more real to me than my own kitchen. Or wherever-the-hell-I-was when I finished. I was emotionally scraped raw by that point. I didn’t want to leave, but it was time for the book to end, for me to leave Ness, and well, anything else would be spoilers.

There is no honor among thieves. That’s what people say. That’s why that phrase has become such a truism, because such honor does not exist. Except that occasionally it does. There is another cliché that may apply here, the one about the exception proving the rule.

Honor Among Thieves is the final book in the Ancient Blades trilogy. In the first book, Den of Thieves, our thief and hero, Malden, snuck into the Free City of Ness like, well, like a thief in the night. In the second book, appropriately titled A Thief in the Night, Malden and his companions, the Knight-Errant Sir Croy, the witch Cythera, the dwarf Slag and the Barbarian Mörget, investigated the demon-lair under the mountains that protected the country of Skrae from the barbarians of the East. Unfortunately, in order to defeat the demon, they blew up the mountain. The whole mountain. Leaving civilized Skrae, including Malden’s home city, ripe for a good old barbarian scourging.

The companions believe that Mörget was trapped and killed in the explosion. He’s actually leading the barbarian horde. Sir Croy is serving the crown, because that’s what Knights always do, whether they think the crown is stupid or crazy or ill-advised or whatever. That leaves Malden and Cythera.

The thief and the witch return to Ness to discover that the rats have deserted the sinking ship. The rich have all left the city. The reasonably well-off or reasonably healthy and idealistic form an “Army of Free Men” under the Burgess, the leading noble. And that leaves the dregs of society. The only healthy people left are the thieves and the prostitutes. Malden’s people. And Cutbill, the head of the underground but extremely influential Thieves’ Guild has left town and left it all to Malden.  As presents go, Malden would rather find the Nessian equivalent of coal in his stocking. He doesn’t want to be in charge. But he knows he has to be.

And when it comes to the choice between saving their city or letting the barbarians run them over and kill them, the supposed dregs of society will band together, and there is honor to be found among thieves.

Escape Rating A: If you love sword and sorcery fantasy, run, don’t walk, to get yourself a copy of Den of Thieves and start reading the Ancient Blades. This is a series where you need to read the whole thing, and you won’t be sorry you did.  This is new-school type sword and sorcery, so the gods don’t intervene the way they used to in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser‘s day. These gods are made in the images of men. I think that just makes their worship more powerful, but also much darker. There are no good choices here, just shades of grey. Anyone who likes Steven Brust’s Jhereg series but wishes it had an actual ending will love Ancient Blades. I know I did.

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