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.
I enjoyed this book from Cate Glass aka Carol Berg a lot. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, with Carol writing under a new name. I’m a big fan of Berg and was curious to see this new book from her. There’s enough of Berg’s hallmarks to keep a Berg fan satisfied, and I was very happy with this book.
An Illusion of Thieves is essentially a book divided in two parts that equal a whole. This division isn’t outright–there is no part one and part two–but it’s easy enough to pick up on and occurs around the halfway point of the novel. The first half focuses on our characters, and one of my favorite things about this author’s work has always been her superbly written characters. I wasn’t disappointed here. These characters are complex and multi-faceted and yet easy to empathize with. Sometimes you understand their motivations, and sometimes you don’t because things driven by emotion can be complicated and seemingly in opposition to logic. Romy, our main character, is a great example of this. She seems pretty straightforward on the surface, and is a survivor because her terrible childhood has forced her to be one. Yet, she risks everything for a family that threw her away. And then she once again risks everything for the man whose protection was revoked. Parts of me wanted to shake her and wonder why she’s risking so much for people who aren’t as loyal to her as she’s been to them, but it’s just a part of who she is–Romy is someone you’d want on your side, that’s for sure. Her brother Neri is very much a rebellious teenager, but he also has a good heart. Some of the other characters can be hard to read at times, which I enjoyed.
One of my favorite things about the characters in this book was the relationships they build with one another. Romy and Neri’s relationship is just as complex as that of her and Sandro. One is built on loyalty to family. She wants to shake Neri into sense as much as she wants to save him. It would be easy enough for her to abandon him but she sticks by. Sandro, her lover, owned her. And yet he treated her kindly, as much as someone can who owns you. And it’s clear she cares for him, even after everything that happens between them. Then you have characters like Placidio the duelist, who has some mysterious secrets he won’t reveal–a hidden depth when on the surface he appears nothing but a fighter and drunkard. I very much enjoyed the bonds he forms with both Neri and Romy. There are some other great characters they encounter along the way as well.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, the first half of the book focuses on the characters. We learn some of their backstory, we spend time getting to know them now, focusing on their relationships, being introduced to new characters that will become important later. We watch the characters make progress and / or struggle to remain afloat in this thing called life. Essentially, not much actual plot happens in the first half of the book, just a whole lot of background and set up. As someone who enjoys slice of life now and then, I’m totally okay with that. I can see where some readers might be bored and think ‘nothing’s happening!’, but this was a good fit for me. The second half of the book is where the sudden arrival of an unexpected message kicks off the plot. From then on, the pace quickens and we’re off an running as plans are made, plots are schemed, and our characters get down to business with the task at hand. I’ll admit, knowing Berg’s previous work, I was on pins and needles through the entire last half of the book, waiting for the other shoe to drop and some disaster to reveal itself. I won’t spoil things, so I’m not going to tell you if things worked out for our merry band of not-thieves, but I will say that as a reader I was satisfied with how things concluded.
One other thing I want to mention is the magic and world building. The world seems familiar and yet not. But that familiarity helps the reader fill in blanks and / or make assumption about the way the world works. There also seems to be some history to the world regarding magic and religion which we’ve only glimpsed here and I’m hoping will come up again later as a greater mystery to be solved. There are some things that have been left open which rouse my curiosity, that’s for sure. I have a feeling that discovering things about world itself will be a bigger overarching plot throughout the series (at least I hope!). Now, back onto magic. Some people are born with it, seemingly at random. It’s highly illegal and considered demon-born. Parents often ‘get rid of’ their children when they exhibit such abilities, as they see them as cursed and harbingers of misfortune. The prohibitions on magic are strictly enforced and those suspected of it hunted down. Using ones magic is very dangerous indeed. Yet, these people still exist, living with their magic in secret. Their magical abilities vary from person to person, almost like specific superpowers rather than a strict sort of magical system. I appreciate a book which takes place in a secondary world fantasy setting where the magic works this way. Thought that was pretty neat, and I’m looking forward to seeing if we encounter more magic users with different sorts of powers in the next book.
Overall, I thought this was a fun book, with great characters, and a plot that thickened at the end. I’m very excited to read more in this world! 4.5/5 stars.