The Black Tongue Thief


Christopher Buehlman


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

September 4, 2022

here is a blurb on the front cover of this book that reads: "Holy hell, this book is awesome" -- Nicholas Eames. I agree with Mr. Eames opinion - this book was a delight. I had read reviews of The Black Tongue Thief, but the title sounded a bit bizarre, and there are so many other good SF & Fantasy novels being published now that I put The Black Tongue Thief on my ever-growing list of Books To Be Read Someday, and then forgot about it. Then my friend Frank recommended it to me, and it was available in the library, so I picked up The Black Tongue Thief before we departed on vacation and read it in the airport and on the plane. Thanks Frank - it was a great read!

The Black Tongue Thief tells the story of Kinch Na Shannack, a small, wiry kynd (human) born in Galtia (which is now part of the kingdom of Holt) - Galtians have black tongues for no apparent reason, sort of like elves all have pointy ears. Kinch is a thief; he has been given the best training by the Takers (Thieves) Guild. But the training isn't cheap - Kinch is saddled with student debt, and needs cash to pay off his tuition. So Kinch puts his training to use, joining a band of highwaymen robbing people on the open roads. When the gang spots a lone soldier striding down the road carrying a valuable (magical) springwood shield, they attack. It doesn't go well. Kinch soon finds his situation even more dire, and the Taker's Guild orders him onto a long and dangerous quest - he must join up with the Spanth paladin and journey to the far western kingdom of Oustrim, which has just been invaded by an army of giants.

Buehlman is a creative author; he has created a fully realized world and populated it with kingdoms that have their own history, culture and language. Occasionally we get snippets of background that make it seem that this is world truly exists, albeit one populated with an incredible number of dangerous creatures and adversaries. There are the nasty hordes of vicious goblins who poured forth from the Hordelands, nearly overwhelming the kynd in a desperate war that the humans barely won. There are huge kraken that possess malevolent intelligence lurking beneath the waves of the sea. Powerful giants swinging clubs the size of tree trunks flatten everyone in their path. And there are the dangerous mixlings - creatures created by insane sorcerers by mixing different beings together, such as Hornhead, a powerful combination of man and bull.

Buehlman loves magic. The world he describes has all sorts of creative magical devices and spells. If a spell is tattooed on your body, then even if you are not a magician, you can still summon the spell. Kinch himself has a few tattoos from the Taker's Guild. The most powerful characters in this novel have a host of spells available, as well as items such a ensorcelled rings, staves and tomes of knowledge. If I have any fault with this novel, it is that the supreme magic-users seem to be too powerful, capable of so many feats that they may as well be demi-gods.

This is a fun read. Kinch finds himself in a myriad of tight places and needs luck, thief-skills, and fast action combined with quick wits to survive. He has a few stalwart allies on his side, plus a top-level assassin sent by the Taker's Guild to ensure he doesn't decide the designated task is too formidable and simply make a run for it. Kinch also has a blind cat for a pet, which may or may not be magical.

When I finished The Black Tongue Thief, I immediately looked up what other books Christopher Buehlman had written. Alas, it appears his previous novels are horror novels, a genre for which I have little enthusiasm. However, Between Two Fires sounds like a historical novel set in the bubonic plague era of medieval Europe, so perhaps I will give that a try.