The Sign of the Black Rock (Three Thieves Book Two) – Scott Chantler

3 out of 5

While Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves maintains its inaugural volume’s general sense of fun and deft use of comic / action timing, a lack of plot development and some off-putting odd perspective make it a much bumpier ride.

In the midst of a rainstorm, our titular trio, on their travels to find Dessa’s brother, decide to hole up in the hay loft of a stable accompanying an inn.  Unbeknownst to them, said inn is run by the unscrupulous Grig, who’s running a side business to procure untaxed alcohol.  As Grig finalizes the latest edition of that deal, in walk a slew of The Queen’s Dragons, in pursuit of you-know-who but also seeking shelter from the storm.

When Grig discovers Dessa, Topper and Fisk, dollar signs of a potential reward flicker in his eyes, and thus our setup for 100ish pages of near-miss foibles.  Which, thanks to Chantler’s skills, are mostly successful.  Having established his leads pretty well, there’s a lot of good back-and-forth – though Fisk is eschewed from events too early, presumably as a matter of plotting convenience – and the eventual about-face of all the major players is well effected.

But there’s a particular bit with a magician that causes the book to come to a cold stop; in part because it’s not logically very believable, but mainly because our heroes – in disguise – look so off.  The dimensions might’ve been right, but it looks wrong, and Scott seems to cheat a bit to get everything in frame.

Otherwise, although it’s entertaining, volume 2 is too clearly a stop-gap.  They’re just waiting out a storm and so happen to get involved in foibles, no forward story momentum otherwise happens.  You remove this pause and the narrative is unaffected.

In the scheme of things, I understand playing things out a bit.  If Scott hadn’t set up his fun characters and wasn’t so skilled at moving us around his pages, it would be a lot less tolerable.  But… he didn’t.  So, yeah, we’re good.