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WesternSFA
Den of Thieves
by David Chandler
Harper Voyager, 2011, $7.99, 451pp
Release Date: July 26, 2011

Chandler , who is both funny and honest in his Acknowledgements, had an epic tale in mind when he started writing; this in only the first volume of a series – a trilogy at least – which is not only substantially thicker than most first books, the publisher had to go with a tighter font size to cram it all between the covers. I like the cover art by Richard Jones, with Malden on a rooftop in a low, stretched crouch, a wicked blade in his left hand, and the port city of Ness behind him.

The prologue is good, suspense-building background for events that might otherwise seem trivial or unrelated, when they are neither. It gives us readers a nice, warm glow of omniscience, as well as a thrill of anticipation.

Bikker is a man with a magic sword; Hazoth is a sorcerer who can compel demons; together with a mysterious third, they plan to wreak destruction on the Free City of Ness and its myriad inhabitants. Bikker recruits Malden , a young burglar, to be their stooge, but Malden is a thief, not a sociopath – you understand the difference, don’t you? – who just wants to square himself with the Thieves’ Guild so he can work in relative peace.

Every story with a thief-protagonist also needs a noble hero. For the Thief of Bagdad it is the Calif ; for Mouse it is Isabeau’s knight; in another movie it is a brave cobbler. Here, the hero is Croy, an out-of-favor knight who is Bikker’s opposite. Both have named swords of power, but Croy, for all that he is an outlaw, defends the very civilization that has excluded him. And, of course, there needs must be … a Lady. Cythera is a most striking heroine. She is immune to hostile magics and curses, so Hazoth uses her as a sort of lightning rod for all the curses directed at himself. They can’t harm Cythera , but they take the form of tattoos that move and snake across her skin until they get discharged. The description of her on pages 138-139 is masterful.

This is really one of the best fantasies to come along in a while. Throughout the book, details are vivid and fresh and the action is satisfying. I only wish the publisher had accorded it the dignity of a hardback format. It’s definitely a keeper.

By the way, horror fans, you may already be familiar with the author under the name of David Wellington. If his other stuff is as good as this, I may have to hunt it down. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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