An Illusion of Thieves (Chimera Book 1) by Cate Glass begins with the introduction of Romy, the confident and mistress of a high level political figure in 600 AD inspired Roman City-State. The first-half of the book explores world and character building, as well as the many facets of magic, including how magic is considered a devils plague through multiple devices. Not to mention how those that posses its power are forced to hide it less they be chased by sniffers and killed through horrific means or choose to become sniffers, themselves.
Thank you to Tor/Forge and NetGalley for an Arc in exchange for an honest review.
Romy, the main character, is attempted to be drown to death as a baby by her mom and then sold into prostitution when it is found she has magical abilities (considered a demon’s plague), Romy hides her ability feverishly to keep favor with il Padrone who keeps her in comfort and riches since buying her from the Moon House, in which she worked.
Her brother, Neri, however also possesses such gifts and is foolish with his use of them. After getting caught using them, his father takes the fall and is punished by having his hand cut off. Neri sends for Romy’s help. After admitting all this to il Padrone and begging for help. He sends her away, her family out of the city and makes her responsible for Neri, who is put on probation. Given a couple sacks of silver to survive until she and Neri get on her feet, Romy is sent off promptly without anything but what she came with and the clothes on her back.
The rest of the first half introduces us to what we think of minor side characters that also produce magical abilities, as we get to know Neri. Neri, who is a HOT MESS that drives Romy to her wits end, while Romy learns her fathers’ business before running out of the silver given to her, missing her old life, and running out of hope il Padrone will ever change his mind.
Here’s the thing though. While the first half reads like most first novels will read. World-building, character-building and an overall getting to know you period, it still entertains. It never loses its luster or makes you want to get to the point. I did at one point start to wonder where it was going in terms of the description– where was the heist that was promised. However, otherwise, I felt the slow build and quite enjoyed it.
Glass should be credited in her ability to accomplish this by doing a few things.
- The side characters introduced held captured the readers attention either by being intriguing, witty or mysterious
- Neri— can we talk about Neri, PLEASE. While during the first half of the book he drives Romy absolutely to distraction- you can’t help but feel sorry for the kid and root for him as you get to know him. Glass drops subtle hints that beneath the surface that there is wisdom there that maybe he might know more than Romy does about magic, about what is true and can teach her a few things.
- The political intrigue starts from the first page and slow burns throughout the entire book, including the first half. You just have that gut feeling that something is amiss and it is going to come back to Romy one way or another. Whether it comes back to bite her in the ass or it comes back to her credit– it is coming full circle.
- The suspense of Neri’s probation, the sniffers and feeling like Romy and Neri’s life is hanging in the balance day-to-day makes the first half work.
- Lastly, all of the above brings us to one of the themes of the books. Glass’s exploration of this theme is well played. It isn’t rushed, it isn’t quickly answered. Romy ruminates and struggles against herself, and Neri throughout the book: Is it magic that is bad? Who wields it? Or their reason in which they are wiedling it? The reasoning in which this theme comes into play is multi-fold and would spoil some important plot points, but needless to say it is well played out. Without this, the second-half wouldn’t have the punch it does.
The second half is where the book pays off with what it promises, while also setting up the second book. And it does so with a kick and twist. Staying general, as to not give away the best parts, that political intrigue most definitely comes back to Romy.
Those side characters introduced become Romy’s squad. And those squad goals? Oh, there is your twist. This isn’t just any squad. This is a magical squad. And it is terrible amounts of fun!
While one would blackmail Romy into doing their bidding for this heist, and there are others (due to Romy’s time with il Padrone) that she knows would benefit from it, as well. Romy decides to do it for different reasons- the right and moral reasons. And she will use her magical squad to attempt to pull the heist off.
Whether the squad pulls it off? You will have to read to find out. It is a great ending with a cliffhanger that sets up book two, as well. If you like heist books and squad goals, this is a refreshing take on both!
And who knows, I may have already named the second book…. Illusion of Glass 😉 HA!