The story takes place in the Free City of Ness, a place where money and status is everything. While inside the city the citizens are free men, but if they should venture outside the city walls they would become villeins – nothing more than slaves to whichever lord manages to capture them first. Only the rich land owners possess true freedom, the ability to travel wherever they like without the threat of slavery hanging over their heads.
Malden, the main character, became a thief out of necessity. He was born the son of a whore, the lowest status of them all, and his only dream is to one day own land of his own and so doing break free from the shackles of his lowly birth. That costs money – lots of it, but before he can even start working towards this goal he has to pay an absurd ransom to the master of thieves, Cutbill, in order to become a member of the thieves’ guild (and to keep himself from dying a gruesome death!). So when he’s hired to steal the Burgrave’s crown he jumps at the opportunity to earn some gold on the side. The only problem is that the crown is far more than it seems and his actions have some dire consequences…
Throughout the story Malden gets to meet some very interesting characters, many of whom later form part of his rag-tag crew for the second, more daring heist. There’s Croy, a knight of the Ancient Blades, who is righteous to the extreme and to whom honor comes before all else; Kemper, the card sharp, a living ghost (it’s a long story); Gurrh, an ogre, and finally Cythera, a beautiful tattooed woman who acts as a shield against magic for the evil sorcerer Hazoth.
The varied characters are all very well-written and engaging. I quickly grew attached to Malden, but also to Croy. His over-the-top righteous view of the world was an interesting counterpoint to Malden’s more pragmatic viewpoint. Chandler is an artist with words and his detailed descriptions really brought the world to life. Some might argue that this adds unnecessary length to the novel, but for me it was a welcome addition which only added to my enjoyment.
As a book lover there was one scene that stood out.
“The book was crawling across the table. It arched its back - its spine - and pushed itself along the scarred wood with its pages like a slug. It was headed for a sausage on a plate and left a trail of drool or slime behind it as it moved...Who doesn’t love a killer book!
He watched the book move for a moment, fascinated by its silent slithering. Then he drew his bodkin and brought the point down hard through the cover of the book. The thing flapped and shook for a moment, then a trickle of black ink ran out from underneath its dead pages.”
The plot twists kept me on my toes and the pacing made for an engrossing read. There is a slight lull in the middle, but the last half of the book really picks up the pace. While this is the first novel in the Ancient Blades trilogy the ending is gratifying and the novel can stand very well on its own. Luckily the UK editions of the rest of the trilogy are already available so there’s no lengthy wait. I want to see more of this world, especially more about the Ancient Blades!
I know it’s a cliché but Den of Thieves really has it all. There are great characters, hilarious moments, nerve-racking pursuits, heroic battles, magical artifacts, a damsel in distress and even a tale of love triumphing over grim circumstances. While Chandler uses many of the well-known fantasy tropes there’s enough of a twist to them to keep things fresh and interesting.
I really loved Den of Thieves and I can’t wait to get my hands on A Thief in the Night and Honour Among Thieves. I’m sure the larger story arc will have some stunning surprises. This is definitely well worth a read!
The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very good)
Thanks to Claire and Andrea from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.