Christopher Buehlman’s The Blacktongue Thief is an interesting specimen. The start of a series, this volume must introduce not only a host of new characters, but an entire world with all of its oddity, politics, and day to day situations as well.
Our lead, also the title character, is introduced doing the most mundane sort of thievery as a highwayman. His name is Kinch, and he and the others are working to pay down school debts when they encounter Galva, a lone warrior woman in the forest. The group plans to attack her en masse and make a fortune from the rare items she carries.
Naturally, she defeats them almost effortlessly (with the help of a giant bird). It is a nice encounter that sets up the book, introducing two main characters and explaining large amounts of the world.
Buehlmam is an experienced horror author, and a number of downright disturbing descriptions attest to this. Something as simple as rotten teeth is used to great effect, creating a moment that is simultaneously a little silly and chilling. Other aspects of the world receive similar attention, down to the almost mundane description of an animal with a human face.
A quite brutal war has finished not long ago, and the scars of it are clear. Some who fought in it are broken, those who failed to fight are often distrusted, and racism and rationalism rebuilt based as much on old grudges as practicality.
A major female character does die towards the end, and while it is a fitting enough circumstance for the death it is also possible it will cause issue for some. The male lead is indeed driven to a certain level of motivation by her passing. That said the character has much agency throughout the rest of the book, and her passing is somewhat foreshadowed.
In the end there are a number of acknowledgements ranging from literary influences to friends and colleagues all the way to a beloved and deceased cat. Given the contents of the book none of these are particularly surprising.
The ending is an interesting animal as well. While it is clear that there is a series in the making, often the first volume in a series will nonetheless tie up a fair number of loose ends.
This was a fun and fast moving read. Not for those who need clean language, or who cannot handle the occasional tragic moment, but quite enjoyable. This would be easy to recommend to readers who might enjoy something in rougher and darker fantasy.