Pros: Funny, clever, and highly entertaining
Rating: 5 out of 5
Swan’s Braid and Other Tales of Terizan is a collection of short stories by Tanya Huff, all featuring the thief Terizan. This is a relatively short collection of five stories that sells as an inexpensive ebook. The genre is classic fantasy, but with touches of personality and culture that give the world its own unique feel. It isn’t the standard European milieu, which is nice.
Terizan is a great thief, and the Tribunes of the Thieves’ Guild feel just a tad threatened by her skills and ambition–thus they continually maneuver her into difficult and dangerous assignments. Good thievery plots are hard to pull off, because the author has to be very on the ball to keep up with reader expectations of cleverness. Tanya Huff does a fantastic job of it. I love the ways in which Terizan gets into trouble, gets out of trouble, and pulls one over on the people who try to harm or trick her. I also love the fact that she isn’t infallible, and her own ambitions and ego sometimes trip her up.
In Swan’s Braid, Terizan falls for a beautiful mercenary captain named Swan. Swan, however, has her own reasons for finding Terizan captivating. Toss in Terizan’s first test from the Thieves’ Guild and a local leader with criminal connections, and Terizan has to think fast to keep her head above water.
In Mysterious Ways gives us a great peek into the ins-and-outs of belief in small gods, and how those small gods can still affect their believers–and those who cross them. Terizan’s latest Guild assignment lands her in trouble with one of those gods with hilariously dangerous results.
The Lions of Al’Kalamir is almost-sort-of a classic tomb/dungeon crawl, with plenty of traps for the unwary and enjoyable plot twists along the way. Terizan gets herself into things at Swan’s behest in order to head off a civil war, but of course someone has to complicate things by pulling one over on her.
Sometimes, Just Because pits Terizan against a powerful wizard, which might just be her most dangerous assignment yet. Terizan’s ambition trips her up a bit in this one, but she isn’t being as foolish as she might seem.
The Things Everyone Knows sends Terizan into the realm of crypts, tombs, and ghosts in order to head off a political conspiracy–not exactly something she wants to involve herself in, but the Guild once again has her number. This one brings her full circle back to the events of the first story and introduces another unusual small god with interesting influences.
Thievery plots are so difficult to pull off well. They require a lot of cleverness on the thief’s part, and too often that devolves into what I call the “think like the author” problem (i.e., the author’s omniscience allows the thief to make assumptions they shouldn’t be able to leap to). Tanya Huff avoids this beautifully. Terizan is genuinely clever on her own merits. She also is flawed without being too foolish, a balance that’s hard to maintain. My only disappointment with Swan’s Braid is that I hated running out of stories to read!
On a personal note, I find Tanya Huff’s skill with thievery plots so wonderful that if she ran a D&D game I’d play in a heartbeat. She’d clearly be fantastic at coming up with traps and plots that didn’t fall into the equivalent “think like the game master” problem, where the only way to succeed is to figure out how the GM thinks.