My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book has made it to my favorites list. The world-building was rich and detailed without any data-dumps that I could identify (pet peeve) ; instead, it was progressively revealed through character interaction (which can be a tad disorienting for some in the beginning until enough has been filled in to provide context for the rest of the story). The world location had a Venetian feel, with the intrigue of a noble court ruling over a conquered city that seems to be in decline. There is an undercurrent of rebellion from the original inhabitants, who seem to be modeled from Gypsy Roma and Traveller clan cultures. Stir in a seedy criminal element amongst the poor and oppressed majority and you have set the stage for all kinds of drama and intrigue. Proper names are a bit of a challenge with letter decorations not often seen in English; while it helps give the story an exotic flavor, it also slows down reading quite a bit and may put some readers off (I am actually not a fan of this technique, but it was close enough that I could skim over most of it and still figure out what it was referencing). I did actually enjoy the constant word play ... with the Vigil (police force), knots (gangs - slipknots are traitors) and pattern decks (tarot). Even the magic system was well thought out and fairly diverse with derivatives of oneiromancy (not my favorite), cartomancy, astromancy and numeromancy/geomancy (eg. Feng Shui) fairly prominent within the story (and not over the top powerful in most cases). Plus 1 star just for the fantastic world that I found here.
The central character (Ren) is a former pick pocket/gang banger just trying to survive along with her sister; and after betraying her capo, her best bet seems to to be a long con targeting the weakest of the noble houses. Now a creature of both worlds (noble and peasant), she proves to be ideally suited for the complex world building the authors do so well. With the gentry, you have the expected power politics. With common folk, you get tribal/social politics. Within each, Ren finds unexpected friends and allies, as she juggles identities like a secret agent. Throw in a mysterious Zorro-like figure and my mind was spinning after each new reveal trying to figure it all out (several time I though I had it ... but I was wrong). With all of the complex plots running through the story, it is amazing that most of them all pulled together in a satisfying finish ... bad guys foiled, good guys live to fight another day (and this is important ... there are a few things left unresolved, but there is not a cliff in sight ... and I still want to read the next book).
I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.
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