4.0 out of 5 stars
Deception, dealings, and death
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on June 22, 2021
Is she the lady Renata, come to town to make amends with her aunt after her mother broke with the family many years ago? Is she Arenza the fortune-teller? Or is she Ren, who grew up in a gang of thieves, escaping that life after she poisoned the head?
Well, she's all three, and she works very hard to make sure nobody knows that. Taking up a residence and buying frivolities to keep up appearances, Ren and her sworn-sister posting-as-maid Tess must look like they have been born to a noble and wealthy household, even as they can barely afford food and Tess has to remake Renata's dresses almost every day. Renata works to weasel herself into her 'aunt's affections by making herself useful in the trade and politics of the city, while getting more and more obsessed with the vigilante known as the Rook.
There are class politics, religious persecution, and rising tension between the natives of the area and the people who conquered them centuries ago.
The world was rich, varied, and entertaining. I liked the numinatra (magic stuff). I liked how not everything was spelled out like the reader is a moron, instead it was brought up in description and conversation so you gradually (but quickly) understand by context. (Another reviewer mentions that the magic and religion only show up later and when convenient, but I disagree, I'm pretty sure they are talking about them from the very beginning.)
I had some trouble keeping the houses, the classes and races, the religion, and other names straight. The one lady who does astrology and stuff—they kept calling her by different names! Even within the same scene. So cruel. Part of that I can blame my memory, part I can praise the detail in the book, and part I blame the authors for not clarifying more. I could keep the main cast clear because they're around a lot, but all the rest of them only pop up every now and then, not sure how I'm supposed to remember who they are (especially when they are referred to by their name OR their title OR something else).
The fact there are gay/trans/whatever people is a couple times thrust in-yo-face like 'aren't we great because of our varied culture' but for the most part I was pleased at how it was integrated into the world as if it were normal (e.g. casually mentions the lady sitting next to her wife or whatnot).
While I was throughly entertained for the entire book, which is rather long, I was dissatisfied with the ending. To be clear, it ends in a good place. Some questions are answered, some conflicts resolved. It ties up part of the story with clear room for sequels.
There was a reveal that was no reveal because duh, another reveal that was a surprise to Ren but not to the reader, another 'reveal' that the characters reacted dramatically to although I couldn't figure out why... Ren accepts things told to her without questioning them, she makes inexplicable judgements, Vargo behaves entirely out of character, and for some reason although the ghost always knows what's going on, he doesn't appear to in the ending scene. What happened to the care that I saw in the rest of the story? It was too forced and too inexplicable.
Also, maybe I'm alone, but can I express how much I do not like Grey? How boring and flat can a person be? Especially when surrounded by the rest of the lively, vibrant cast of the book. His name is apt. I was disappointed time and time again when he came up as a main character, when I'd much rather spend time with Ren or Vargo.
Vargo is the best character, no doubt. I want to read the sequel and yet I am afraid it's going to ruin everything.
I enjoy reading Marie Brennan and think M.A. Carrick is a good partnership. I look forward to more from the pair.
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