Book Review: An Illusion of Thieves
Illusion of Thieves
Written by Cate Glass
Published by Tor Books
Publication date: 21st May 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
In Cantagna, being a sorcerer is a death sentence.
Romy escapes her hardscrabble upbringing when she becomes courtesan to the Shadow Lord, a revolutionary noble who brings laws and comforts once reserved for the wealthy to all. When her brother, Neri, is caught thieving with the aid of magic, Romy’s aristocratic influence is the only thing that can spare his life—and the price is her banishment.
Now back in Beggar’s Ring, she has just her wits and her own long-hidden sorcery to help her and Neri survive. But when a plot to overthrow the Shadow Lord and incite civil war is uncovered, only Romy knows how to stop it. To do so, she’ll have to rely on newfound allies—a swordmaster, a silversmith, and her own thieving brother. And they’ll need the very thing that could condemn them all: magic.
Deep in the darkest hours of that night, a scraping noise woke me. A moment’s listening, a moment’s peering into the dark to pick out the crouched figure in the corner. Neri was wriggling the foundation stone that hid Sandro’s purse.
“You sneaking, thieving weasel!” I batted him under the chin with a club I kept by my pallet and shoved him to the floor. “I should throw you in the river and be done with you.”
I lit a candle from embers in the brazier, so I could make sure he’d not already taken the silver.
“Wanted to buy you summat,” he said through blood and spit and a slur of wine. “That’s all. A present. Some good wine. Cheer you up.”
Even had I been idiot enough to believe his claims, the rope-tied bundle on his bare pallet belied them.
“So you planned to steal what’s left of our future and run away? That would cheer me up considerably.”
First impressions: Everything about this drew me in! This was the book I was most excited to see in my goodie bag from the MCM Book Blogger Brunch (thank you Jamie!), alongside Magic for Liars (which I still need to read!). I love magic, thieves, heist stories as well as strong family ties so this sounded like it was going to tick lots of my boxes.
The more I think about this book the more I like it, although it was not without imperfections.
Let’s start with the positives.
I loved the Italian-Renaissance-inspired world and the variety of magic involved, although I was a little confused as to why some magic users are so feared while others seem able to live in relative luxury. The magic-sniffers were truly creepy additions and the scene where Roma and Neri are in the temple and being pursued is tense!
I liked how the main relationships in the story were friendship and family rather than romance, especially as I never saw the great relationship between Romy and her patron, the Shadow Lord, meaning that, although she describes how amazing he is, he came across quote poorly, throwing her back into a rough life when she dared to ask for the first favour she has ever approached him for.
I loved how the little band of misfits and dropouts comes together in order to pull off the heist and that section of the book was fantastic as well as the set-up for the next book.
Unfortunately, it took a bit too long to get to the actual heist. I am a big character reader so I still enjoyed the book a lot, especially as some of what slows down the plot is fairly essential character-building. I am really looking forward to seeing this built upon in the second book.
Highly recommended if you like books with found families, heists, magic and familial relationships, with a dash of Renaissance Italy thrown in for good measure.
Again I touched the blue flame to the smoking center of the wound.
My fingers stung with the heat, yet not so much as I expected for the blaze did not consume the paper. It should have been ash in moments. His skin should be blistered, scorched, cracked, but was not. Magic…
“Spirits, Romy, do you feel that?” A thunder in my head almost drowned out Neri’s murmur.
The flame flared brilliant blue – or was it Placidio’s eyes that blazed sapphire, tinting the twisted paper? Scorching heat raced up my arm, as if the burnng taper stretched itself and wrapped around my limb, infusing vein and sinew with a power that cleared rain and fear and fog from my head.
What I liked: The focus on friendships and family, the heist storyline, the inspiration of the setting from the Italian Renaissance, the creepy ‘magic-sniffers’, the variety of magic used. I also liked the fact that there is no shame attached to Romy for her being a courtesan – she is actually quite respected, and that the relationship between her and the Shadow Lord while based on a definite imbalance of power, isn’t in any way abusive.
Even better if: There was more explanation of ‘how’ the magic actually works and why it is forbidden, if the pace of the story had been sped up ever so slightly so spend more time on the actual heist.
How you could use it in your classroom: The main character starts the story as a courtesan or sex worker, which is portrayed positively in a refreshing light. Despite there being nothing explicit, this is definitely marketed as an adult fantasy rather than one for younger readers so I would not recommend using this in the classroom, unless it is with adult readers.
(Thank you to Jamie-Lee Nardone and Tor US for my review copy)
What did other people think?
Sarah @Hamlets and Hyperspace said:
“I am absolutely chomping at the bit to get my hands on the next book and highly recommend this to any fantasy reader. “
Raven @Dreamy Addictions said:
“It was a perfect blend of magic, heist, and politics.”
Judith @ChainInteraction said:
“It’s the kind of book I can see myself reading on a long train journey and thoroughly enjoying as a way to pass the time.”
While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of Spinning Silver, Perfectly Preventable Deaths, Fawkes, Sanctuary, Tangleweed and Brine, The Hazel Wood, The Cruel Prince, To Kill a Kingdom, Invisible in a Bright Light or The Light Between Worlds?
Thanks for reading!