This is a strange, strange book, more like a bawdy ballad or a prolonged and updated Canterbury tale. I suspect it’s a book where you either go, ‘Wow, this is amazing’ or you go ‘What the hell is this?’ I strongly recommend the audiobook version. Christopher Buehlman gives a remarkable performance. He adds the music to the lyrics of the text.
By the time I was twenty per cent into the book, I still wasn’t quite sure what I was listening to but I was very eager to hear more of it.
‘The Blacktonue Thief’ covers all the traditional magical quest territory but it’s nothing like any other magical quest story I’ve read.
The narrator is neither hero nor anti-hero. He’s just a guy with debts to pay who is trying to get by without doing anything that will make him hate himself or failing to do something that will make the people he’s indebted to kill him and his family.
There’s a blind cat. That should be cute, right? Except it turns out to be one of the scariest things in a book full of scary things.
It’s not unusual to imagine a world where Goblins go to war with humans but it is unusual to have such, ugly, alien, disturbing to think about Goblins and then know that they almost succeeded in exterminating humanity.
It’s not unusual to have sword-wielding magic users on a quest. It is unusual to have magic tattoos that allow them to carry creatures within their bodies until they’re needed.
The most unusual thing of all is how the tale is told. It’s a troubadours ballad. The kind of thing a wandering minstrel might have performed to crowds to garnish pennies. It’s an Irishman’s tall tale, using exaggeration and humour to tell a sometimes grim truth. On the surface, it’s all smiles and flashy action but deeper down there’s an acknowledgement that the world is broken and no one, especially the little band on the quest, is going to be able to fix it. There’s a lot of humour and a little love and occasional flashes of vivid action. Note to self – NEVER play Pull with a Goblin, you will not end well.
I had a great time with this book. I think it’s truly exceptional. It’s also extremely hard to explain – to quote an old movie, ‘it’s like trying to describe dayglo orange to a blind man’. So, if you think you might enjoy this book, click on the SoundCloud link below and see if it whets your appetite. If it does, say hello to the blind cat for me – but keep your distance.