Format: oversized omnibus paperback
Reading Time: about 3.5 hours
One Sentence Synopsis: The thief Amra Thetys returns to Bellarius, the place of her childhood after receiving a disturbing message, and must battle with thugs, wizards, another weapon of the Eightfold goddess, and the ghosts of her past, as well as those of Bellarius, in an attempt to save a city she despises.
As I mentioned in my review of this Omnibus in Part One, I wasn’t sure how to approach a review for this title. The Amra Thetys Omnibus is actually a collection of three books: The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids, The Thief Who Spat In Luck’s Good Eye, and The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate. Each of these stories was a self-contained, self-published work by Michael McClung, and were combined into one volume to make this Omnibus. I decided to post this as a series of three separate and shorter-than-normal reviews, with each review focusing on one of the stories, and at the end of the final review, some additional thoughts on the Omnibus format itself.
Here, then, is Part Three of the Omnibus review, The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate, and some thoughts about the Omnibus itself…but first, some guest reviews from around the Internet:
Richard Bray of Fantasy Faction says: “Amra is once again a compelling protagonist – a thief who relies on her reputation for being tough as nails, yet clearly has a soft spot for the unfortunate and unprotected. Amra’s backstory has been artfully handled throughout the series, so much so that her return to her hometown – a place we’ve previously only seen glimpses of through Amra’s recollections – feels like a natural next step for the story. This new setting not only gives Amra a new sandbox to explore, but also gives readers their best chance yet to learn more about Amra’s childhood and discover how she became the thief we first met in Trouble’s Braids. It’s not uncommon that I find myself enjoying series more and more as they go along and as the author feels more comfortable with both the characters and the overarching story her or she is telling. The same holds true in this case – McClung’s second effort captured my favorite parts of Amra as a character and the world she lives in, and Sorrow’s Gate only built upon that with even greater storytelling confidence. While I especially liked the ending, readers who hate cliffhangers could find themselves frustrated by this book and may be better off waiting for the next in the series so they can immediately follow Sorrow’s Gate with its sequel. Judging by the conclusion to Sorrow’s Gate, it should be worth the wait.”
Sandra Bone of The Ampersand Board states: “I can never compliment Michael McClung’s plots enough. This story has everything: evil goddess knives, revenge, magic, prophecy, and more. The problems he throws at Amra are unique. It is rare to find a story so full of surprises. In addition to possessing a great plot, the story is well-paced. The action is consistent, and there are enough low-energy and funny moments to break up the story…Amra is amazing. She’s snarky, kind-hearted, realistic, and smart. Her personality never seems over the top because everything is delivered so naturally. She’s great to follow as a main character. A bad point: I can see an argument that Amra is becoming too powerful. Without providing spoilers, I will say with the way Amra keeps growing, it might eventually become too much. In this book she was so powerful that it seemed unlikely anything could stop her reaching her goals. If this trend continues, there won’t be anything left for readers to fear. Part of Amra’s charm was that she felt ordinary, and she is becoming less so with every book…The new setting feels just as interesting as the old one. Bellarius is a city where people carry on with their business even as the world seems to be ending. After all, what can they do? The city is dominated by the criminal element and filled with the spirits of murdered children. Cynicism fits them, and gives the setting an unnerving, hardened atmosphere.”
The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate is a welcome return to the tone and feel found in The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids. Although the story takes place on Bellarius, a port city on the mainland where Amra lived as a child, it bears more similarities to Lucernis than the otherworldly setting of Thagoth found in The Thief Who Spat In Luck’s Good Eye. Only later did I learn that The Thief Who Spat In Luck’s Good Eye was actually written first (named appropriately, Thagoth). This actually makes sense as it felt out of place to me versus the other two stories. With some editing it appears that McClung was able to manipulate the order of the books in order to better explain Amra’s progression in power by the third book.
Amra has left Holgren behind, so other characters are needed to step in and fill the void. Fortunately there are some great supporting characters in this story. Keel, the young thief that Amra takes a shine to, is outstanding, kind of a smaller version of herself. The God of Sparrows is a brilliant idea, a god who fell from being an all powerful Blood God and can now speak only by sharing telepathic images. Amra’s uncle, Ives, has secrets of his own. The Hag lives on a wrecked ship in the sea and Amra must confront her. Fallon Greytooth is a mysterious wizard who could be an ally or an enemy. Since the story is told in first person, the only way for McClung to bring these characters to life is through Amra’s viewpoint, and much of that relies on dialog. McClung continues to show he is very talented with the ability to make this happen. The most delicious part, of course, is that since Amra doesn’t trust anyone, we don’t trust them either, so you always find yourself waiting for that knife in the dark, or that betrayal at the worst moment.
Amra is much like she was in The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids: using self-deprecating humor, sarcasm, and distrust when interacting with others, and relying on instinct and cleverness to solve problems. But she has also undergone some serious changes. Here’s what I wrote in my review of The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids: “She’s not all-powerful, or magical, or even the best fighter; however, what she does have is a will to survive, good instincts, a thorough knowledge of the thief’s craft, and the ability to understand motivation and spin it to her advantage. In short, she should be quite average and nothing special, and yet she’s an amazing character.” In actuality that is no longer the case. Amra is now in possession of some serious, destructive magic. It has become necessary as the stakes get higher in each story, but as Sandra points out above, it feels like she is now overpowered, and it robs the story of some tension.
As in the previous two books, there is quite a bit of action, but as I mentioned above and was true in The Thief Who Spat In Luck’s Good Eye, everything is overpowered, and as a result I never really felt tense about Amra’s fate. The action is easier to follow this time around comared to the previous book, as the sequences rarely last more than a page or two and are very situational. The plot is well thought out, with a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. In The Thief Who Spat In Luck’s Good Eye, I felt that the short page count held the story back due to a lack of detail; here, despite an almost identical page count, I didn’t get that feeling at all, due to the return to the noir mystery feel, the brief action segments, and the copious dialog between Amra and the supporting characters, something absent from the previous book. Some people will not enjoy the cliffhanger ending; if you had planned to stop reading the series here, you will be disappointed. There are currently two more books that follow this one, with the next, The Thief Who Wasn’t There, featuring Holgren as a viewpoint character rather than Amra.
In conclusion, The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate is a welcome return to the tone and feel found in The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids. The plot, pacing, dialog, and action are all positives. An overpowered hero with higher and higher stakes are a negative, as is the cliffhanger ending, but the positives greatly outweigh this. I found the story quite enjoyable, and I will probably pick up The Thief Who Wasn’t There at some point in the near future.
A final thought about the Omnibus format: this probably isn’t something I’d do again. It’s annoying to figure out how to review it, impossible to link multiple reviews from one widget in the sidebar, and just an overall pain. Still, there are some nice features found in the Omnibus that I’m not sure are in the paperbacks. At the very end is a section titled “Amra’s World” by Lhiewyn, a priest character found in the first book (fun fact: McClung has written an additional book called The Last God featuring three short stories around Lhiewyn). This section contains subsections titled “An Incredibly Brief Overview of the World”, “The Known World: A Slightly Less Brief Overview and History”, “The Gods, Goddesses and Infernal Powers. Also Magic”, and finally The Map”, with of course a black and white map that was fairly useful, though it does not show Thagoth. I did enjoy the worldbuilding found here that is fleshed out more than the bits and pieces found in the stories. The total of all these sections is 13 pages, and they are written in the same sarcastic flavor that you’ll find throughout the Omnibus.