At 210 pages, The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids isn’t trying to be the next bookshelf-bending epic fantasy that changes the way you think about the genre. Instead, it’s a straight-forward adventure noir featuring a touch of action, a bit of mystery and a wealth of interesting characters.

Told in the first-person perspective of Amra Thetys, a professional thief with a surprisingly honorable reputation, Michael McClung’s opening book in the Amra Thetys series is fueled by the voice of its protagonist, which reminds me of the titular voice from Francis Knight’s Rojan Dizon novels. Amra relays her story with a touch of world-weary cynicism combined with a quick, sarcastic wit. She’s tough as nails and takes a lone-wolf-against-the-world approach to everything, but as her story progresses, we find that she has plenty of friends willing to offer assistance as she needs it.

Amra’s troubles begin when Corbin, a fellow thief, comes to her door and asks her to hold onto an incredibly ugly artifact that he stole on behalf of clients who then tried to double cross him. He tells her he’s set up another meet with them again, this time to get his full commission plus a “bad faith penalty,” and he’ll be back by midnight to regain the artifact.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he doesn’t return. When Amra goes looking for him, she finds his mutilated corpse just steps away from his front door, and begins her search for the murderer, a quest she refuses to waver from even as she grows more and more aware that she’s in way over her head.

As someone who enjoys noir mysteries where the protagonist follows lead after lead, getting themselves bruised and bloodied in their quest for the truth, this book was right up my alley. Michael McClung, who has also written the Sword Monk Saga and the Comes the Conquerer series, writes excellent dialogue that keeps the characters engaging and the story moving forward.

McClung doesn’t spend a great deal of time describing the city or trying to make it feel different from your stock fantasy city (though his take on the city’s funeral ceremonies – complete with a final meal with the dead, professional mourners and a demon guardian who makes certain the dead need not fear grave robbers – proves to be fascinating). Instead, he relies on a steady assortment of characters to make the city feel alive and create our interest in the setting. From Madam Estra to Alain and Myra to Inspector Kluge and Holgren and Gauche Gavon and Osskil, not to mention the villainous Bosch and his employer Heirus, and the smattering of gods wandering around, it’s a city that is teeming with characters from all walks of life.

McClung relies upon the people to make this city different from any other. The never-ending forward momentum of the plot means we never linger too long on any one character or portion of the city – instead, we’re always meeting someone new or discovering some small detail about the city that helps to flesh out the setting as the story moves ahead. It’s a great way to give us details and history without resorting to an info dump, and I’m already looking forward to reading the sequel, The Thief Who Spit in Luck’s Good Eye, in part because I want to see more of the city of Lucernis fleshed out.

This is a self-published novel, and there are a few typos and errors in the text. At one point Corbin’s name is replaced with that of another character, making me briefly wonder how I’d missed that character’s death. Fortunately, the text is mostly clean, and the writing is strong enough that for the most part the lack of a publishing house’s editing team doesn’t detract from the experience or pull the reader out of the story.

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids is one of the 10 finalists for Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, and certainly deserved its place in the finals. I read five or six entries during the initial round (though I didn’t read Fantasy-Faction’s ultimate choice, Priest by Matthew Colville), and McClung’s entry was clearly more polished than any of those. It also compares favorably to What Remains of Heroes, another finalist.

As for how it compares to Ben Galley’s Bloodrush, which Fantasy-Faction already reviewed – that’s a tough call. They’re very different stories with entirely different tones, settings and plots – yet I’d certainly recommend them both.

I probably wouldn’t have read them without this contest, so I’m already appreciative of Lawrence for creating this competition and giving these self-published authors some well-deserved exposure. Not only has it given me 10 new books to read, but I’ve also found myself looking forward to some of the entries’ sequels. The next two books in the Amra Thetys series, The Thief Who Spit in Luck’s Good Eye and The Thief Who Knocked on Sorrow’s Gate, are already on my to-be-read list, and as self-published books, they’re all relatively inexpensive on the Kindle (The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids is only $0.99). If they continue the success of the series opener, I’ll have even more to thank Mark Lawrence for.


By Richard Bray

Richard Bray has been an avid fantasy reader since the fifth grade, when his father gave him a Lord of the Rings boxed set for Christmas. After earning his journalism degree from Texas A&M University, he spent more than 10 years writing, shooting photos and editing in the newspaper industry before transitioning to media relations. He lives with his fiancé and two dogs inside walls cluttered with St. Louis Cardinals jerseys and enough swords to arm a small fellowship – including, of course, replicas of Sting and Anduril.

2 thoughts on “The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung”
  1. Hi Richard,

    I just wanted to stop by and say thanks very much for the lovely review, and that I’m very pleased you found something to enjoy in Amra’s opening adventure. Reading your review gave me a much-needed reminder that the process of writing, however solitary it might feel, is in reality half of a very special kind of conversation.

    Thanks again,

    Michael McClung

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