Knight errant Croy, bearer of the ancient blade ‘Acidtongue’, lives in the thriving medieval city of Ness. A gifted warrior, Croy is nonetheless something of an innocent. Every day the thuggish, profoundly treacherous inhabitants of Ness test his patience and threaten his life, yet the dim knight holds true to his code of honour. He believes that people are fundamentally good… and that may be his undoing in the end.
Croy’s best friend, if you could call him that, is Malden the thief, a man who is everything the knight is not. Born of questionable parentage and raised on the harsh streets of Ness, Malden’s life of crime is one of necessity and perverse nobility. He lives by his wits because he has to and, like the best of outlaw anti-heros, his roughish ways are oddly appealing and engaging. Credit for this is clearly due to author David Chandler’s knowledge of his material, with Malden embedded in that part of the fantasy tradition which highlights, indeed even celebrates criminal conduct. For the reader, the thief is a character that’s well worth rooting for; from Croy’s point-of-view however, he’s something more important again: the brains of the operation.
In the past, this mismatched knight and crook have settled civil wars and foiled barbarian invasions but, as the novel begins, cracks are beginning to appear. Malden may do all the work but it is Croy, as the virtuous defender of order, who gets all the credit. Chandler has a lot of fun playing with the frustrations of the pair’s dynamic (which never quite reaches the level of a bromance), however, when it comes right down to it, Malden needs Croy as much as the knight needs the thief.
Pressed to breaking point by the Lord of the Underworld and his no-nonsense Guild of Thieves, Malden and Croy – along with Cythera, Ness’s resident witch – undertake to carry out the greatest heist in history: the theft of the Coronet of Burgrave, a crown of such value that it might just solve all their problems. That’s if the knight and the conman don’t both fall in love with Cythera along the way (spoiler: they do). High-fantasy meets sword and sorcery throughout, but Chandler’s horror roots often show through in the raw, bloody eruptions of violence which pepper the narrative.
Yes, words like ‘destiny’ get thrown around a little too freely, but Chandler has so many balls in the air at one time that it is easy to forgiven him the occasional cliché. In fact, if anything, once the reader accepts how firmly entrenched in the common conceits of fantasy the novel is, then the more fun Den of Thieves becomes. Chandler has really thrown himself at it, and at times it feels like Malden and Croy can’t turn around without stumbling over a dwarf or hearing tell of elves and ogres. The latter races clearly exist in the world of the novel, though for the most part they are keeping to themselves.
Den of Thieves isn’t perfect – Chandler’s characterisation is workman-like, especially with regard to Croy – but it is an efficient and enjoyable read. Punctuated on occasion by genuine bursts of wit, daring, and panache, it is a pacy effort, with Chandler deploying detail (albeit too much detail at times) with the sure hand of a seasoned author. The considerable weight of world-building in the opening half of the book occasionally feels laboured, jarring with the more action-orientated second half, but then Den of Thieves is working hard to establish a credible universe not just for itself but for its sequels. While the novel functions perfectly as a stand-alone adventure, it’s also the first part a trilogy with A Thief in the Night and Honour Among Thieves following on a ‘quick release’ schedule.
Den of Thieves (2011)
Harper Voyager (451 pages, paperback)