Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 352
Release Date: May 21st, 2019
Series: CHIMERA, Book 1
Rating: 3/5 Stars -Liked it
Notes: I was given a free ARC of this book by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
Cateline has spent the last decade as courtesan to Sandro di Gallanos, the ruler of the city-state of Cantagna, living a relatively pampered life of mistresses and advisor, despite being a slave. But when word reaches Cateline that her brother used magic (punishable by death) to steal, and her father is taking the fall to cover up his abilities, Cateline uses all of her political capital with her master in an attempt to spare her family punishment. Unable to exonerate her father without revealing a sorcerer is on the looose, di Gallanos makes the following decree: Cateline’s family, with the exception of her brother, is banned from the city; Cateline herself is exiled from the court and tasked with maintaining her brother’s parole.
Returning to a life she hasn’t seen since she was a child, Cateline takes up her old name of Romy and sets about trying to break her brother of his addiction to using his magic – a habit she understands since she, herself, is secretly a sorcerer as well. The two live a fractious, but relatively quiet life until a year later, when the wife of her former master summons Romy to a secret meeting. There, she charges Romy to use her magic and her diplomatic knowledge to untangle a problem that would be disastrous for di Gallanos and the reforms he’s been enacting in the city. Romy has to pull from several resources she’s built up in the slums to solve the dilemma, both out of feelings she still harbors for the man, and to prevent a corrupt ruling class from gaining the upper hand.
There are parts of this book I liked that get muddled by some glaring weaknesses. The writing is solid, and I appreciated Romy’s ingenuity, watching her build a life and a business from nothing, and her understanding of the politics of the city. Romy is determined and resourceful, but stuck with a brother who is absolutely THE WORST until he finally learns to channel his frustrations into learning to sword-fight. It’s a believable arc for her brother, but one that we dwell on for much too long. Likewise, the book takes a long time to introduce the other members of Romy’s eventual crew, and it isn’t until at least halfway through the story that we are finally given the ultimate goal of preventing a diplomatic incident. Characters trickle in and are introduced, but I had no real sense of their purpose until very late in the plot.
The major weakness of AN ILLUSION OF THIEVES is that the entire book is essentially a prologue, an introduction to this young woman and the crew she forms. There are a lot of threads introduced but not paid off, including the origins of the magic that the world believes to be demonic. But calling it a prologue also feels wrong, because it also failed to make me feel the emotional attachment she has for the ruler of the city, Sandro di Gallanos. We are more told than shown that the two have mutual respect for each other, and that, even though she was originally a gift to Sandro, she has never had to do anything in the bedroom she didn’t want to. Picking a starting point for your novel is never easy, but this time I wish that the plot had either started earlier or later in Romy’s life. The bridge it tries to do at the moment, showing her old life and how she came to be a political “fixer” of sorts, just leaves way too much day-to-day dreariness on the page, frequently leaving me wondering when we would get to preventing that civil war that was promised on the book jacket.
AND YET. When the book came to a close, and it became clear that Romy has ambitions of turning her one-time service into a career, that she wants to secretly pull off some Mission Impossible-style jobs with an aim of preventing war from breaking out, I couldn’t help but feel a little excited. While the cons were not the action-packed adventures of SIX OF CROWS, there was a charm to the more demure manipulations of court. If this book had been a novella (and thereby shorter) I suspect I would have been much more amenable to the story. This is one of those circumstances where I think there is a chance that book two will be an improvement on book one, now that much of the exposition is out of the way. In short, the CHIMERA series still has plenty to prove, but there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.