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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)



Official Author Website
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OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATIONCate Glass is a writer of the fantasy adventure series Chimera. Cate Glass is also a pen name of Carol Berg, award-winning and bestselling author of fifteen epic fantasy novels and half a dozen novellas and short stories.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURBRomy 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.

FORMAT/INFOAn Illusion of Thieves is 352 pages long divided over twenty-three chapters with an epilogue, and is the book one in the Chimera series. The book was published in May 2019 by Tor, and is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats. Cover art and design by Alyssa Winans.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSISAn Illusion of Thieves opens a new epic series written by Carol Berg under her new pen name Cate Glass. Set in the world reminiscent of Italian Renaissance, it blends political intrigue, skullduggery, heist, and magic.

Significant conflicts and conspiracies start id dining rooms and artisan workshops. The city of Cantagna is a hotbed of issues, social, economic, and political. Despite internal conflicts and differences, everyone agrees that magic is evil and any person carrying the taint should be executed.

The story’s single point narrator, Romy, leads a comfortable life as a courtesan and the favored mistress of Il Padrone, the ruler of Cantagna. She has a dark secret (magic) she hides well until her foolish brother, Neri, commits a theft using his magical skills. To save him, Romy has to give up her life and build a new one in the slum of Lizard’s Alley. Luckily for the siblings, her thorough courtesan’s education involved reading, writing and developed her charm, grace, humor and the ability to hold an intelligent conversation. She finds a job as a scribe. 

And when their life finally starts getting normal, an unexpected turn of events forces her to learn to control her powers and assemble the team of magical misfits. Sounds like fun, right?

Glass told the story through a single point-of-view narrator, but don’t let it mislead you. It’s not a one-woman show. It centers on a four-person ensemble of thieves with magical abilities and their way of getting into the business of secret missions, heist, and thievery. 

I liked Romy as a lead character and her engaging voice. She’s complex and conflicted, and her past (sold by her parents, raised to be a courtesan, lost everything because of her younger brother’s foolish behavior) shapes her actions and developments. For years she perceived her magic as a demonic taint, not a gift. After using it she was left with chills and aching head. 

When she discovers that magic can feel clear and pure, she questions if it was something broken in her that made her magic so awful. Despite darker moments, Romy remains rather optimistic, resourceful and likable. 

She shares great chemistry with other members of the crew. I especially liked the ruthless training she and her brother received from Placidio, a battered swordmaster with a dangerous past. Pure fun. The fourth member of the crew, a metalsmith with an unusual skill for forgery, impressed me with his stoic approach to threats and danger. Only Romy’s brother, Neri, could use more development. He fits a trope of a young, athletic and reckless hero adored by girls, but with little brains. I’m sure there’s more to him than that, but, well, we see little development for him. I find him flat, but hopefully, things will change in the next installments of the series. 

An Illusion of Thieves loses some ground with slower pacing and insufficient focus on a central plot. Glass takes time with building characters and the complex world of political intrigue and magic. I didn’t mind as I prefer smaller-scale fantasy to the end-of-the-world narratives, but epic-fantasy readers may feel the story lacks higher stakes. I don’t agree, but I can understand why someone would feel this way. 

Glass planned Chimera adventures as an episodic series rather than an epic arc told in few installments. What does it mean? More magical heists. Secret missions. Twists. And this is only the beginning. 

CONCLUSION: I can’t wait to put my hands on the next book. An Illusion of Thieves is pure fantasy fun, rich, engaging, with intriguing worldbuilding, thoughtful character development and a storyline that grows tenser with every chapter. 

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