River of Thieves by Clayton Snyder

Cursed thief Cord relies on his partner, Nenn, to recover his body, stash the money, and convince the authorities that there are no leads left to follow. They spend their days hitting low-tier lenders and banks, but after a botched robbery, Cord begins to think they need something bigger, something that will set them up for life. When that thing happens to be a heist no one else in the kingdom has the stones to pull off, he gathers a group of rogues with a particular set of talents—Nenn, handy with a knife and a cool head; Rek, cat-fancier and strongman; and Lux, undead wizard. Together, they converge on the city of Midian to steal the heart of a saint and punish a tyrant. What comes out of the carnage is so much more—a conflict between gods that could decide the fate of every thief in the worlds.

This book is absolutely batshit.

And I mean that in the best possible way.

River of Thieves is a high-action comic fantasy that will break every threshold for ridiculousness that you never knew you had. Everything is dialled up to 11. Perhaps the most colourful and iconic example of this would be the inclusion of dick spiders, which are quite literally just… dicks, but spidery.

The main POV character is Nenn, a knife-wielding thief that tags along with Cord —who is the star of the show even if he isn’t a POV character. Cord is immortal, and cursed to come back to life every time he dies. Which is often. The author kills him off in a surprising variety of loud and colourful ways, but within a few pages his corpse will be coughing up some organ or other, and getting back to its feet. Cord is the one who leads Nenn (and a couple of other thieves) on a grand plan to do… something. Something that’ll involve giving the rich what they deserve (death) and taking what he deserves in return (money).

The dialogue is where this book shines. The banter between the characters is hilarious, and they are hyper-aware of the ridiculousness of the circumstances they find themselves in. The world is dark and dirty and depressing, but that just means there’s more for the characters to laugh and joke about. At times, River of Thieves is like a grimdark novel that can’t help but laugh at its own edginess, and it is more than willing to take the piss out of itself. In amongst this, there’s a tonne of references to other fantasy novels, authors, and pop culture.

But having said all of that, I’m not entirely sure that this one landed for me. As hilarious as I found the dialogue, I found the plot to be a little… AWOL. When given the choice between taking the story seriously or going for a laugh, River of Thieves will almost always go for the laugh. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — Kings of the Wyld is similar, and I love it for it — but it will come down to taste.

For pretty much all of this book, I had no idea what was happening, why it was happening, or where it was going. Since we’re following Nenn, who in turn is following Cord, we don’t really get more than a glimpse of the motivations that are driving the story. It’s… messy. For me, it made the book feel like a chaotic, directionless mix of strange (but funny!) scenes. Things sort of come together eventually, and there are some nice and emotional character moments towards the end of the book which are given a bit of gravity. I’d have liked to have seen some more of that beforehand, but that’s not really the kind of book this is.

Like I said beforehand, whether you like this one will come down to taste. If you like your stories and character-work to be prioritised over your laughs, then this is probably not what you’re looking for. But if you’re a fan of batshit, filthy, over-the-top humour and banter, then this is the perfect book for you.

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