Lately, I read a riveting work of fantasy: Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick. The author created a world of intrigue more deftly than I have seen in a long time. The main character, Drothe, constantly reassesses his actions as he uncovers misunderstandings, red herrings, and new players involved in the plots swirling about him. These all lead him into interesting scrapes, and the reader turns pages eagerly awaiting the next twist. The characters, especially Degan, are very well done: they are very likable or utterly despicable depending on their role in the plot.
However, one matter bugged me at the end. Drothe’s mentor tries to console him over the many promises Drothe had to break and the people whom he used over the course of the novel. The mentor claims that the end Drothe pursued justified his actions. “The end does not justify the means” is a common moral axiom which the mentor tries to prove wrong or incomplete. To his credit, Drothe only gives grudging agreement with the moral which the reader is supposed to draw from this story.
But, the main problem with the moral lies in it being amoral. The story starts with Drothe resorting to torture in order to gain information and finishes by saying that such actions are alright as long as a better end lies ahead. Yet, keep in mind that most of the characters are criminals. Criminal morals are bad morals! As Aristotle says, the only friendships available to a man of bad character are those of utility. By the end of the tale, all of Drothe’s relationships, with the touching exception of that with his sister, devolve to this level. A gangster can give no life lessons except through via negativa!
Politicians act this way all the time. They refuse to be candid with their constituents and lead them by the nose for votes or donations. The constituents become means for the politician to accomplish a project for the general welfare–or his own welfare, as the case may be. People who do such things harm their own souls. One could say that matters would have turned out worse for Drothe’s friends, family, and colleagues had he not forsworn some of his promises. But, considering how little Drothe actually knew most of the plot, would it not have been better to retain his honor and suffer certain misfortunes than to reduce all the persons around him to means?
By the end of the tale, Drothe gains much respect from his fellow gangsters, but is it worth his losses in honor and the good will of those around him? Read the novel and devise your own opinion!