Thieves World: Sanctuary by Lynn Abbey

When I was in high school, several of my friends swore by the Thieves’ World series. I never really got into it, but having read Lynn Abbey’s sequel I regret it. This is a great book. For starters, it is finely-crafted, with enough description and details of Sanctuary to really make the legendary city come alive. The setting, a sort of late Antiquity right around the fall of the Western Roman Empire, is nicely evoked, as “civillization” gives way to the “barbarians.” The characters are treated respectfully and their personalities are individualized and quirky, seen mainly through the prism of the main character, Cauvin the “sheep-shite stupid” stonecutter’s apprentice. The pacing is brisk enough to keep the reader from bogging down in 533 pages; surprising, given that the action all happens over the course of only a few days. I’m sure I missed many of the homages to previous Thieves’ World characters and situations. The plot is fairly standard for a fantasy work: an old gruff wizard and his reluctant apprentice. But given that just about every possible fantasy plot has already been done (and most of them by Tolkien), Abbey can be forgiven. It revolves around an assassination plot against the aging priest and political power behind the throne, Lord Torchholder, and his efforts to manipulate events one more time to find an heir and solve his own murder. His unwitting and extremely reluctant agent is Cauvin, who has a background and an agenda of his own. This being Sanctuary, of course, he faces betrayal and intrigue as he pushed and prodded along a course he does not understand and does not want to accept. Another detail I appreciated: magick here is both subtle and powerful. And used sparingly enough that when it happens, it’s clearly something important and makes an impression on the reader. A minor quibble would be the ending, which felt somewhat hurried and does feature a somewhat annoying deus ex machina. All in all, a great read and I am now motivated to seek out some of the early books in the series as well as any further sequels.

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