Saturday, 19 March 2016

Review: Honor Among Thieves by J.M. Aucoin

Honor Among Thieves is J.M. Aucoin's first novel in his self-published Hope & Steel series. It is set in 1609, before the time of the King's Musketeers and during the reign of Henry IV. Going by the author's own words, he lists his influences as "Alexandre Dumas, Rafael Sabatini, Arturo Perez-Reverte". Since these correspond with my favourite authors in swashbuckling fiction, there was no way I was going to miss this novel.

The main protagonist of the story is Darion Delerue, a highwayman who used to serve the king as one of the king's own Forty-Five Guardsmen, but left the service suddenly after a personal disappointment and managed to burn all the bridges behind himself, turning old friends into enemies. The story begins with him and his fellow highwaymen attacking a king's emissary who turns out to be someone from Darion's past. This leads Darion into a political plot involving the kidnapping of his past love, Jacquelyna Brocquart, and forces him to face his past.

The story is loosely based on historical events, mainly that of the visit of a Spanish ambassador Dom Pedro travelling to Paris to turn Henry against his Protestant allies in the Low Lands. It is told through three main perspectives: those of Darion, Jacquelyna and Darion's uncle who all get involved with the intrigue in their own ways. Overall, this plot is not very complex, but entertaining enough and provides lots of possibilities for swordplay and musket action.

It is unfortunate that the novel is brought down by a couple of issues. The first issue is plot-related and concerns the reason why Darion left his honourable life and turned into a highwayman. We have two POV characters who both know what happened, but neither of them reveals it to the reader until very late into the story. This feels a bit forced in itself, but then it also turns out that the reason itself was not very thoroughly plotted. I'll explain a bit more within the spoiler space below:

Spoiler:

Early on, Jacquelyna sees Darion and thinks about the reason for his departure with the words "It wasn't Darion that harmed her. She harmed him." However, later on in the story, she seems to forget all about this and is completely unaware of why Darion left her and his entire life behind in order to become a highwayman. Perhaps the author planned something more devastating for the reason early on, but was afraid that it would make Jacquelyna less likeable?

The other thing that brings the novel down is the writing. There are numerous grammar errors, misused or missing words, unfinished sentences etc. that interrupt the flow of the story (one example is the use of plural when singular is needed: "highwaymen" vs. "highwayman"). I reported many of these through the Kindle reporting tool, but nowhere near all of them. Likewise, the author uses modern expressions and words, such as "veggies" for vegetables, that take you away from the 17th century atmosphere.

Putting aside the too modern language, the novel includes several nice details about the 17th century life in general and Paris and the surrounding countryside as a setting - although one could hope for a few more. And while the story is simple, it has the makings of a fine adventure. I sincerely hope that the author will spend a little more time plotting and use a better proofreader for the next installment so that the story gets the delivery that it deserves.

Overall, I'd like to be able to give this novel a better star rating, but I cannot honestly do so with the number of problems it has in regards to the writing. Hopefully, the author will revise the story and fix the grammar etc. problems at some point to make it more enjoyable.

2.5/5 (3 - 3.5 / 5 if the language is fixed)