Review: Christopher Buehlman’s Black Tongue Thief
The Black Tongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman is a witty and ironic tale of a seemingly unimportant thief caught up in the larger machinations of this the Lord of the Rings meets Kings of nature world.
Kinch Na Shannack is out of luck – or rather, his luck is good, it’s the damn guild he’s linked with that is the problem. As a prank in the Taker’s Guild, Kinch’s main worry in life is making sure he steals enough to pay off his “school” debts. But that is all about to change when his crew picks the wrong brand. When the job goes awry, Kinch finds himself the companion of the very lethal, but thankfully merciful warrior knight, whom he just tried to steal.
Filled with magic, humor, and a slow-boiling political intrigue, this entertaining tale explores themes of war and men’s greed, while also highlighting Buehlman’s strength as a storyteller. Most importantly, it was a pleasure to read, armed with killer punchlines that will have you laughing out loud and bittersweet moments that will give you a jagged breath.
The Black Tongue Thief reads like a love letter to an epic travel-based fantasy. As Kinch relays his various exploits in first person to the reader, we take a look at the larger world around him. This colorfully depicted world features multiple degrees of magic, an expansive war-centric story, a mix of cultures and languages, and more. And at the center of it all is our mismatched roving group of characters, consisting of a thief, warrior knight, witch, old nemesis, and blind cat. As they begin their quest and embark on the unknown, the reader is teleported to a brilliantly imagined and slightly absurd world with a new location in every odd chapter.
One of the strengths of this novel are its characters. Kinch Na Shannack likes to present himself as, paradoxically, an honest thief. He is smart, knows how to get out of sticky situations and when to trust his luck. But reading between the lines, he is also the product of his education; he is devious and does not trust easily, preferring to make limited connections with people rather than lasting relationships. But as he’s immersed in an ambiguous adventure with the warrior knight, Galva, and the witch, Norrigal, Kinch’s character growth is evident through small heartfelt moments that identify the story’s pivotal turning points.
And, over time, these characters will definitely grow on you – you might have thought you wouldn’t want to get too much attached to some of them. . .
There are also good discussions throughout the novel; namely on the waste of war, and the greed of men. Buehlman expertly draws on these main themes, adding small details piece by piece throughout the novel and connecting it to its plot. We see the ominous and widespread impact of the war, alongside the representation of the Guild and their excessive hand. These main themes, coupled with the author’s straightforward writing style, prompt the reader to draw their own conclusions about the value of war and who really benefits from it.
These are also the themes that add a contrasting element to the apparently youthful tone of the book. Repeatedly the reader is stopped because what started out joking actually reveals a darker side to the story. This use of tone in conjunction with the theme is what defines The Black Tongue Thief apart from his peers.
Put simply, Buelman’s latest novel is a hoarse laugh followed by a punch in the gut – it’s brilliantly wild and full of heart. If you’re looking for an entertaining fantasy tale that slyly explores deeper topics, try this one.
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Summary | Good reading
Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his thief education, which includes (but not limited to) lockpicking, knife fighting, scaling walls, breaking down falls, weaving lies, making traps, plus some little magic. His debt has caused him to lie in wait along the old forest road, planning to steal the next traveler who crosses his path.
But today, Kinch Na Shannack got the wrong target.
Galva is a knight, a survivor of brutal Goblin Wars and the handmaid of the Goddess of Death. She is looking for her queen, who has disappeared since a distant northern city fell into the hands of giants.
Unsuccessful in his flight and lucky to escape his life, Kinch now finds his fate intertwined with that of Galva. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force the thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, kraken hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.