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The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate by Michael McClung

The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate by Michael McClung
Book Name: The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate
Author: Michael McClung
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: January 14, 2015

When did I go from being a thief to some sort of hero? When exactly did that happen, and how could I possibly not have noticed?

I was introduced to Michael McClung and the Amra Thetys series through Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. McClung’s entry, The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids, immediately caught my attention. A noir-style fantasy mystery, Trouble’s Braids read like a mix between Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Francis Knight’s Rojan Dizon novels and Douglas Hulick’s Tales of the Kin series.

The story was tight and self-contained, taking place in a world of surprising depth populated by a fascinating array of characters, each with their own agendas and oversized personalities. I enjoyed reading a story that took place in a single city, with our heroine slowly putting the pieces together as we grew to understand her world through the wealth of characters we met along the way. It was all very charming, and pulled off the underrated trick of feeling light and breezy while leaving no doubt that putting the story together not only required plenty of skill on McClung’s part, but no insignificant amount of planning and foresight.

Suffice it to say, I liked the book. Not merely as in, “that was a pretty good self-published book,” but as in, “that was a pretty good book” – no caveats necessary. You can read the Fantasy-Faction review here.

The second book in the series, The Thief Who Spat In Luck’s Good Eye, wasn’t a bad book, but went in a different direction, one that didn’t include as strong a reliance on the original noir style, and found Amra facing off against gods and immortals rather than the intricacies of a fascinating city of thieves, priests, common folk, lords and assassins. It was a story that had wandered away from much of what I liked about the original – a fact that didn’t mean it was poorly written by any stretch; it merely wasn’t the book I was expecting, and I found myself a bit disappointed. After all, I really liked Trouble’s Braids. So it was with some curiosity that I purchased the third book in the series, The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate. It proved to be the best of the bunch.

Much like Trouble’s Braids, Sorrow’s Gate is a more personal, intimate story, forcing Amra to solve a mystery that begins, like so many mysteries, with a grisly discovery. In this case, it’s a package delivered to Amra’s home containing the head of a childhood enemy with a magical rune carved into the forehead. Amra can only think of one person who would send her such a morbid gift – a friend across the sea in Bellarius, the brutal city where Amra grew up. Breaking her vow never to return, Amra goes back to find her old friend, and instead finds herself facing another of the Eightfold Goddess’s Blades and trying to save a city she hates.

Amra is once again a compelling protagonist – a thief who relies on her reputation for being tough as nails, yet clearly has a soft spot for the unfortunate and unprotected. Amra’s backstory has been artfully handled throughout the series, so much so that her return to her hometown – a place we’ve previously only seen glimpses of through Amra’s recollections – feels like a natural next step for the story. This new setting not only gives Amra a new sandbox to explore, but also gives readers their best chance yet to learn more about Amra’s childhood and discover how she became the thief we first met in Trouble’s Braids.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Sorrow’s Gate has proven to be the most satisfying book in the series to date. Luck’s Good Eye was originally the first book in the series when, under the title THAGOTH, it was published by Random House. McClung then began working on Sorrow’s Gate, but after Random House expressed little interest in the sequel, McClung dropped the book and the series without completing either. A few years later, more for his own amusement than anything else, McClung began writing Trouble’s Braids as a prequel to THAGOTH, and only returned to the remainder of the series after finding his self-published editions well received.

It’s not uncommon that I find myself enjoying series more and more as they go along and as the author feels more comfortable with both the characters and the overarching story her or she is telling. The same holds true in this case – McClung’s second effort captured my favorite parts of Amra as a character and the world she lives in, and Sorrow’s Gate only built upon that with even greater storytelling confidence. While I especially liked the ending, readers who hate cliffhangers could find themselves frustrated by this book and may be better off waiting for the next in the series so they can immediately follow Sorrow’s Gate with its sequel. Judging by the conclusion to Sorrow’s Gate, it should be worth the wait.


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