King’s Man and Thief – Christie Golden

I bought this book not long after it came out in paperback – never mind how long ago – and I loved it (though not as much as the other book I discovered by Christie Golden around the same time, Instrument of Fate). So I was tickled to download it from Netgalley in its new Open Road edition – my thanks.

One thing right up front: some spoilers are, in my experience, good things. That spoiler my brother dropped on me about The Sixth Sense: not good. What I consider a positive spoiler is: don’t get attached to anyone in the prologue of King’s Man and Thief. That’s all I’ll say, though.

It’s been some time since I read both of these, but I was a little surprised that this and Instrument of Fate are part of the same world. The latter was filled with elves and magic, whereas the magic in KM&T is human and elves make no appearance (though merfolk and the gods do).

The prologue sets the stage, and then the first chapter picks up seven years later to explore the changes in Lord Deveren Larath’s life. After the tragedy in the first pages, he set out in a cold fury to find the thief who invaded his house. He has never found that specific thief, but – through a series of events I’m afraid I don’t entirely buy – he has become “Fox”, a member of the guild of thieves among whom he once hunted. Now, as Fox, he is up for election as leader of the thieves of Braedon. His double life, by day the noble lord and by night the bandit just seemed improbable – both that the other thieves (largely impoverished) would accept him (not to mention the other nobleman thief in their midst) (and would not make him a mark) and that he would steal at all. His stealing, at least, is restricted to those who would barely notice their losses, but it’s a little difficult to picture him mingling in society with friends and acquaintances who had been robbed by his other set of acquaintances. It was also a little hard to accept the fact that he steals at all – he has no need, and simply doing it because it’s fun or a challenge or whatever is generally an unacceptable sort of character trait.

Meanwhile, in Byrn (the next kingdom over), the king has died, leaving his teenaged son to take the throne. And all is not well there: the counselor the young king has inherited with the kingdom is not in favor of the proposed alliance between Byrn and Braedon, as he can make a good deal more money and exult in a good deal more power if relations remain strained. He soon determines that the best way for him to maximize his wealth and power is to kill the young king and lay waste to Braedon, and finds a way to levy a curse against Byrn’s would-be ally that will utterly, horrifyingly destroy it.

The curse is achieved through torture, which – fair warning – is perpetrated on a very likeable character, and graphically described. Again, don’t get attached. This, along with the results of the curse and some random psychotic behavior from a group of other characters, is difficult to read, but not without a point. And yet somehow the Evil Counselor of Byrn does not come across as Random Psycho #21, purely evil for no reason at all. He reminded me a little of Count Rugen, actually.

It was fun. Not as much fun as I remember it being; there was a level of violence and as I mentioned graphic grimness I hadn’t remembered. And the ending might have been all wrapped up a little too neatly a little too quickly; it seemed like exactly the sort of situation where the victors would be mopping up and undergoing counseling for months to come, but it seems more cut and dried than that. But – it was fun. And now I need to pull out Instrument of Fate again and see whether that’s aged as well.

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