"Sometimes theft can be as simple and direct as a fist in an unsuspecting face..."
The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids
by Michael McClung
“Sometimes theft can be as simple and direct as a fist in an unsuspecting face, and sometimes it can be as complex as a military operation.”―
Michael McClung, The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids
*Winner of the Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off, Hosted by Mark Lawrence*
Amra Thetys lives by two simple rules—take care of business, and never let it get personal. Thieves don’t last long in Lucernis otherwise. But when a fellow rogue and good friend is butchered on the street in a deal gone wrong, she turns her back on burglary and goes after something more precious than treasure: Revenge.
Revenge, however, might be hard to come by. A nightmare assortment of enemies, including an immortal assassin and a mad sorcerer, believe Amra is in possession of The Blade That Whispers Hate—the legendary, powerful artifact her friend was murdered for—and they’ll do anything to take it from her. Trouble is, Amra hasn’t got the least clue where the Blade might be.
She needs to find the Blade, and soon, or she’ll be joining her colleague in a cold grave instead of avenging his death. Time is running out for the small, scarred thief.
“McClung has an impressive ability to write compelling characters and a fast paced and action packed plot that never seems to let up.” -Speculative Book Review
“There are gods and demons and magic and better yet, it all feels refreshingly original.” -Elitist Book Reviews
“Michael McClung […] writes excellent dialogue that keeps the characters engaging and the story moving forward.” -Fantasy-Faction
The Thief Who Pulled on Troubles Braids is the first novel of the Amra Thetys series by Michael McClung and the first winner of the Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off. If you are unfamiliar with the Self Published Fantasy Blog off or SPFBO, it is a competition held by fantasy author Mark Lawrence that pits 300 self-published fantasy books against each other in a grand battle. The winner gets the title of SPFBO winner for that year. Not a small feat.
“Sometimes theft can be as simple and direct as a fist in an unsuspecting face, and sometimes it can be as complex as a military operation.”
The story in a The Thief Who Pulled on Troubles Braids starts in the apartment of the thief, Amra Thetys. Her friend and sometime business partner Corbin Harbin comes a-knocking with a stolen artifact in hand. Of course, Amra is no fool. She doesn’t want anything to do with this nonsense; if he has a stolen artifact, he needs to hide it himself. He persuades her, and she agrees to watch the artifact overnight if he returns in the morning to collect it.
The next morning Corbin does not show, and she finds Corbin’s body lying in the street dead.
This death puts Amra in the middle of a battle on the cosmic scale. In the beginning, this was just a quest to find out who killed her friend Corbin, but it turns into a story of deceit, magic, power, pain, and gods. Amra will be tested both physically and mentally. She will have to come to grips with her past choices and possible future while trusting help from unexpected places. Man, I just loved Amra.
“I’d always assumed hair was an integral part of any hairstyle.”
The remarkable thing about this story is that it is so short. You wouldn’t think with the emotion conveyed or the in-depth characters that this was a short book at all—quite the contrary. But The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids does everything very well. When a writer has a clear picture in their minds and can convey that to the reader, the book does not need to be long.
To start with, Amra seems like a pretty common type of protagonist. When I was reading her, it reminded me of Sancia from Foundryside. Both are thieves who are wily, remarkable, quick-witted, prone to disaster, and caught up in something much bigger than them. That is where the similarities end. There is tenderness and vulnerability in Amra that is not as apparent in Sancia. But, coupled with that vulnerability is a core of steel.
Amra is a capable person. Her command of herself, the dignity that she lives her life with, demands respect from every person she meets. She lays herself bare; there isn’t a lot of guile with her. Which is odd considering she is a thief. She is what she is, and that attracted me to her as a character.
“Fate is a slaver, bloodwitch, and I refuse its chains.” As I walked out her door, she spoke in a quiet voice. “That is why fate has singled you out, Amra Thetys.“
As for the side character’s in the story, the most entertaining is that of Holgren. McClung could have played it straight with Holgren with a typical wizard/magician archetype. But he didn’t at all. Holgren is vastly powerful, but you don’t get that sense from him. He isn’t throwing his weight around, and he doesn’t need to. He holds his power in check until he doesn’t, and when he lets it out, it is a thing to behold. I went back and read the chapters that talked about Holgren batteling. He is a certified badass.
Aside from the power, he also makes an excellent bantering foil to Amra. They both are exceedingly quick-witted, and that leads to some entertaining conversations between the two of them.
As this is a bit of a caper story, a “who done it,” you won’t know who the big baddies are until you get near to the denouement near the end of the story. I wasn’t prepared for the twists. The pacing is so good that it smacks you in the face, no slow burn here.
The city of Lucernis reminded me of cobblestone streets and Italian villas. Beneath the beautiful exteriors lays a lot of rot. Along with the villas are apartments falling apart, full of people barely making it. There was a societal division between the haves and have nots. The city’s poverty level is mentioned briefly here and there, but it was never one of the major players. It created background information that gave some context to people’s actions.
There is also a great historical background that McClung created that paired with the city. The religious systems were shown in great detail with the various deities, gods and goddesses and their acolytes running various temples around town.
When I first heard about SPFBO last year and ended up on one of the teams, I wasn’t as familiar with the past year’s winners as I should have been. Since then, I have read 3 of the 5 winning novels, and they have been highlights of my year. This book, the first winner, is no different. Damn, is this a well-done story, and although I feel like I am coming to know Michael McClung’s work a little later in my reading life, there will be many rereads. It is to good a book to read only once.
“I feel obligated to tell you that adventures are, on a whole, stunningly bad ideas, best avoided at all costs.”
If you are looking for a beautiful piece of grimdark fantasy, rich in story, morally gray protagonist, scenes that will make you jump up and down and cheer, The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids for you.
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Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: Goodreads / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter