The book is about two partners in crime, Hadrian and Royce, as they get hired to pull a couple of heists involving swords (hence the title). Both start off simply enough but as such things are wont to do in fantasy novels, events go all Murphy's Law on them. It's really more like two novellas set one after the other with an ongoing plot linking them loosely together.
Usually the biggest pitfall I have with sword and sorcery is the main characters. This was not the case for this book. There was no brooding over Royce's and Hadrian's pasts (which was refreshing). Little tidbits and hints about their pasts were noted without dragging the pace of the story down or distracting me with some tale of woe. There were one line acknowledgements where I could look back at that character's actions up until that point and go “yup I suspected that, but thank you for confirming it” without interrupting the story one whit.
I loved the social dynamic between the two of them and how opposite Hadrian and Royce were by nature and by trait, but how little true antagonism there was between them. I found myself very happy with the ribbing of who's got a soft spot for what, the “if we listened to me, we wouldn't be in this mess” reiterations and of course the ever entertaining “Well we could just kill the twit” spiel. Call me a shallow dunce, but I was actually happy with how both of these guys accepted each other and how they broke problems down into things they could deal with. Since they were so stable with each other, one could appreciate the degree of instability that every other character seemed to go through during the course of each of the novellas. This is not to say that the main characters are static as much as the changes in them are not dramatized as much as everyone else's (with one teeny tiny exception related to the overarching plot between the stories). I thought that appropriate since everyone else seemed to be dealing with much more dire personal and political problems through the stories. While this could have been problematic, instead Royce and Hadrian served as a stabilizing force in the stories.
The other characters with more going on within the stories consist namely of Alric the new king of Melengar, his sister Arista and Thrace, a peasant girl in the second novella. Both Alric and Arista seemed fairly typical as far as they went. Much of their individual antics seemed more to set up situations to see Royce and Hadrian react to them than to garner characterization for them individually. Among the more minor characters, I felt that Thrace was better detailed and will probably end up being more interesting than either of the hereditary royalty as this series progresses.
So far the villains are obvious with a few exceptions. However, I am happy to report that the conspiracy seems to require the Evil Overlord's Handbook as required reading for all of its ranking members. That is to say, that those in charge of making plans and carrying them out were generally smart and wily enough to not get caught at it and make it appear as if they had been wrong/mistaken/forced into whatever action they had gotten caught at. It made for a better villain and put it a little more on the reader to define exactly who are the bigger jerks between the two sides of the big Imperial conspiracy.
If there's one place where this book stumbled, it was in the world building. It wasn't that there were elves and dwarves and dragons so typical of the sword and sorcery sub-genre. It was more that I hard time trying to figure out why there was a rift between the Imperialists and the Royalists when it seemed more reasonable to guess that any of the kings would quite happily support an imperial agenda... provided they were the ones wearing an imperial coronet after all was said and done. I also thought that the boundaries and differences between kingdoms (at least the ones that were actually visited by the characters) were minute overall, more like city-states or really big fiefdoms rather than anything so expansive as a kingdom. I did appreciate how “other” the elves ended up being. I kind of wish that the dwarves had a different other-ness illustrated to the same degree, particularly since the story has a dwarf character pop up a few times, but no true elves have any face time whatsoever. Fortunately I didn't pay all that much attention to a lot of that because I had Royce and Hadrian escapades to laugh over instead, except as the politics intersected with their lives.
Faults aside, I really enjoyed Theft of Swords and will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.