Summary: “They butchered Corbin right out in the street. That’s how it really started. He was a rogue and a thief, of course. But then, so am I. So when he got himself hacked up in front of his house off Silk Street, I decided somebody had to be made to pay. They thought that they could just sweep him away like rubbish. They were wrong.”
Amra Thetys is a thief with morals: She won’t steal from anybody poorer than she is. Fortunately, anybody that poor generally doesn’t have much worth stealing! But when a fellow thief and good friend is killed in a deal gone wrong, Amra turns her back on burglary and goes after something far more precious: Revenge.
Review: A thief with morals isn’t a new thing in fantasy fiction, but even if it has been done before, seeing it again is still a welcome change from the brutish rogue who indiscriminately steals from anyone who passes them on the street. That alone can turn the idea of the thief from a flimsy stereotype to a more realistic character, one you want to pay attention to because they’re likely not just there to be part of the background.
Amra Thetys is such a character. However, you don’t actually get to see too much of her being a thief. You get to see her living on the fringes of society, her not being your typical “nice girl” and instead being fairly rough around the edges, but the biggest way her being a thief comes into it is that she knows other thieves and fences and that knowledge pulls her into the book’s plot. When fellow thief Corbin comes to her and asks her to safeguard an item he stole while he deals with double-crossing clients, Amrys agrees to keep the ugly statue hidden. It’s not until Corbin is found dead on the streets that things start to get hairy. Nobility gets involved. Secret identities are revealed. And Amrys finds herself in the centre of a messed up situation involving the statue and magic and some revelations about the city of Lucernis that keeps both Amra and the reader fairly well on their toes.
While I can’t say there was a lot of world-building per se, there was a good deal of city-building, since Amra doesn’t leave Lucernis to explore the wider world. The story is well contained within the city’s boundaries, resulting in no need for additional details about the world the characters aren’t really interacting with. It’s good that things didn’t get bogged down with loads of information about outside things that aren’t relevant to the plot, but it did give the whole thing a feeling of strong isolation. As thought Lucernis exists entirely apart from the world around it, disconnected and alone. I like the detail that was put into Lucernis and its idiosyncracies, the wonderful things that make it unique and give it depth and character all its own, so it’s not like the lack of outside connections hurt the development of it as a real-seeming place, but it still had that oddly isolated feel that made me wonder if, at this point in the series, there were any plans to take the story outside the city at all.
As a comparison, Marshall Ryan Maresca’s Maradaine novels all take place within the same city, but that city feels very much connected to the rest of the world, with a variety of people from different places and mentions of other cities and all of that. I found similar stuff to be lacking in The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids.
Amra did make an interesting character to ride on the shoulders of, though. With her sarcastic jaded worldview, she made an excellent counterpoint to the sheer number of fantasy characters who always see goodness and hope in any situation. Amra wants to get things done so that Corbin’s death can be avenged and she can go on living the way she wants to live. The book is told from her viewpoint, first-person perspective, so her internal commentary is abrasive and intelligent and wonderful to read. I love her tone, I love the way she can be rude and snarky and ride the line between being great to read about without being over-the-top insulting to anything and anyone. McClung struck a great balance with the book’s tone.
The pacing was swift and fairly even, the lore around Lucernis was done well and was interesting, and Amra is a character unlike many others, all of which combined into a quick fun read. I’m definitely glad this one made it to the second round of the challenge, and it’s definitely a worthy contender.