This is a YA Fantasy Heist novel, in the vein of Six of Crows, but this was not as easy to consume and enjoy as that story. On the positive side, the world was intense, the magic system was complex, and the characters were intriguing. There are some things I really enjoyed about this one, so I am glad I read it, even though I don’t exactly love it and probably won’t continue on with the series.
There were a few major things I struggled with that may also be difficult for you, depending on your reading personality. In particular, I struggled with the world building, the scene setting, and the character development of the villain. Also, relationships between characters, in general, could have used a lot more depth and growth.
The world building is complex and initially extremely overwhelming. I love nothing better than burying myself in a deep fantasy world, including learning about and understanding every little facet that makes the world tick, but something about the dispensation of the information in this novel was too extreme. Way too much information was thrown at readers way too fast, and instead of that being exciting or intriguing, it was complete information overload.
Minus the initial opening scene, which is short and extremely dramatic, I couldn’t even settle in to who the characters were or why I should even care about the story before it overwhelmed me with 1,000 details that could have waited until later. There is way too much telling up front, and I needed reasons to care, before I committed to trying to understand this extremely complicated world.
That does not mean that I don’t think you should read this book, but it does mean that I think you should expect to struggle, especially through the start of the book. It wasn’t until somewhere around the 12-15% mark that things started to click for me. I started to care about some of the characters, and I started to understand what the point of the story might be. That made it easier to consume the world building details going forward, though I suspect there is a lot that I read and just couldn’t process in the first 10% of the story and all of that was lost to me, which probably made it harder to understand things that occurred later in the story. I even confess to rereading and rereading and rereading, but the information just wasn’t delivered in a way that was easy to consume and understand.
If you struggle with fantasy worlds, then you’re going to need an extra dose of patience to settle into this one.
My second issue was with the scene setting, which I should confess now may already be resolved in the final edition of this novel. I did read a free ARC from Netgalley, so it’s possible that some of the clunky writing in describing scenes, particularly the action scenes, was cleaned up in one of the final edits. Since that is likely, this may not be a problem for others, but I often struggled to truly get a solid picture of what was going on. I found myself rereading constantly with this book, but it was a frustrated reread that I kept doing—not one where I just love all the details so much that I keep going back over them. This clunkiness took away a lot of the drama of the action scenes for me, because I was fighting so much to process what was going on in the scenes that I had no energy left to be emotional (scared, angry, worried, etc) about what was playing out in the actual scene.
The final problem I had was that while some of the characters were extremely well done, other side characters were very 2D, especially the ultimate villain. POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. Honestly, I don’t know why he was really doing half of what he was doing. He had almost no character development, and in general, he was a very weak, whiney villain. He went from supposedly major badass to whiney sniveling guy in a matter of seconds. It was disappointing, because really. How am I supposed to be scared of someone that pathetic? If nothing else, he should have at least been consistent in his evilness. Go ahead and smite the villain in the end, but they shouldn’t become an entirely different person when that occurs.
Also, he shouldn’t just disappear and reappear with no explanations or logic behind that. He was only produced at important moments to serve as a plot point, rather than truly being an interesting or useful part of the story. All of the inconsistencies with the villain made the ending rough for me, and I felt like a lot of the final scenes were all surface level drama meant to serve the plot, which all things considered, for a heist novel, was weak. I just desperately wanted emotional and compelling scenes where characters were pushed against hard surfaces, with everything at stake, and they had to make hard choices. Unfortunately, most of the “big” issues were easily resolved in the most expected ways possible.
And while I wrote that, I realized that I have one other final complaint that made the ending rough for me. You can’t tease a reader with the prospect of multiple different romantic couples through 464 pages of a novel and provide no real payout out explanation on any front. And it’s not a payout to create a lot of last minute surface drama. Nobody wants or is interested in that. This occurred with multiple characters, and it wasn’t the kind of exciting that comes when you anticipate something and are waiting for it to occur.
I would read 10 books about two characters that never even manage to kiss, if an author will just convince me that something real and necessary does exist there and I’m waiting for good reasons. But this wasn’t well done like that. Instead, it was frustrating to read so long and receive absolutely no payout on any front, without any actually decent reasons, and especially knowing that it was done to try to encourage people to read the next novel. No thanks, because if you couldn’t make relationships and social interactions compelling, or convincing in this novel, then I’m not going to be any happier about it in the next novel.
I also think too many things were thrown in at the end to attempt to create drama and suspense, both in relationships between characters and in actions taken. Unfortunately, most of those things felt really flat and unnecessary, or like they were only there to create surface level drama, which isn’t my favorite method by which stories should move forward.
Now, I know this is a lot of complaints, so apparently I struggled with this story in a lot more ways than I originally intended to discuss in this review. Once I started typing down why I had trouble connecting with this book, everything started to become clearer to me. This was a great concept, but the story has some serious execution issues. I do want to remind everyone that there were a lot of things I enjoyed about this novel and world, and that’s probably why I’m so disappointed and frustrated by the issues. Also, don’t forget that I read an ARC from Netgalley, so some of these issues may have already been addressed in the final edits for the novel.
As a final note, the overall world was still intriguing, and I absolutely loved the female characters in this novel, particularly Sofia and Laila. They get an extra shout out.
Book 15 read in 2019