There was some palpable hype about this book in my rhombus of social media, and so when I received an offer to review a NetGalley, I couldn’t resist.
Because peer pressure! 😀
So I’d like to thank the author, as well as Crown via NetGalley for the review copy.
Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.
But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.
Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.
To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.
A lexicon was essentially a giant violation of reality – that was why it was so unpleasant to be close to one. The consequences of a lexicon going haywire were too horrific to contemplate. And this was the chief reason that the city of Tevanne, with all of its power, corruption, and fractious merchant houses, had yet to experience much deliberate turmoil: as the entire city was essentially maintained by a system of huge bombs, that tended to make people cautious.
This was quite an engrossing book, I have to say. I can see why the hype was palpable!
This is the story of Sancia, who is a thief with some pretty neat abilities. See, in this world, the art of scriving, which is using magical sigils to change the nature of an object and make it act differently than normal, is pretty commonplace. Sancia has the ability to hear objects when she touches them with her bare hands. She can feel what they are or what they think they are. This gives her insight on how to avoid magical traps and alarms, and makes it very easy for her to open safes, so she has become a capable thief.
She is hired to steal a box from a very well protected safe, and the payout is unbelievable, so off she goes, breaking into the safe and taking the loot. What she finds when she looks through the loot is a key. A key unlike any other key, with scriving on it like nobody has seen in centuries. A talking key that only she can hear. A talking key that only she can hear that can open any lock.
I really liked this story. It kept me reading well into the wee hours and well after lunch break at work. It takes place in a city that is sort of… industrial revolution era unspecified-Italian-city(™), which was really well fleshed out and easy for me to imagine. Sancia is from the Commons, a part of the city with no laws, where the lowest of the low live. There’s very little clean water, and very little money to be found. It’s grubby and dirty, and living there is really rough. Then we move to the campos, which are enclaves where the merchant houses and all their luxuriously wealthy people reside. Here there are beautiful gardens, and fountains that just spit clean water into the air for decoration.
I also really liked the characters. Sancia is a deep character with a rough past, and I enjoyed her story, but when Clef appeared on the scene, this book completely changed for me. Clef is everything I could ever want in a sentient talking key. The banter between Clef and Sancia is awesome and I giggled more than once in the middle of the night at the wit between them. I love a book with a rogue, and a snarky AF rogue makes that even better. A snarky AF rogue with a partner in crime that they can snark at is the ultimate triad for me, and so this one very shortly became a read that was very difficult to set aside to do other things. Clef, as a character becomes really, really quite fascinating as the story goes on, and I was glued to my seat hoping to find out the skinny on his past.
We also see things from the POV of Gregor Dandolo, who is the Captain of the guards on the waterfront (among other things). After Sancia burgles his very well guarded safe, he decides that he is going to find out what exactly it was that she stole, and why it was important. A little investigation here and there. Sometimes a little thuggery. He was an interesting character to follow around. Later on we also meet Orso and Berenice, who are basically the master scriver for one of the merchant houses, and his fabricator (not exactly an assistant, but a great help to have in his line of work). They unexpectedly make an appearance as POV characters, and though I wasn’t sure at first if I would like them, I ended up really enjoying some of their dialog. Especially Orso, who is sometimes more or less a belligerent old man (with extra snark).
The best part of this book for me was the magic system though. The idea of scriving being something that just convinces an inanimate object to be something it isn’t was fascinating to me. Some of the uses for scriving are really well thought out too. For example, there are a few buildings in the cheaper side of Tevanne that are being held up by wooden beams. Wooden beams that think they’re stone beams. So, because they are obviously and absolutely undoubtedly stone beams and not at all wooden beams, things like water damage, rot, mildew and what have you are no longer a problem for them. Even if those things have happened, the beams themselves think they can’t possibly have done, so they just… support an entire building as a stone beam would. As the book goes on you learn more and more things that scriving can do, and it gets really fascinating to think about the intricacies. I love a really well put together hard magic system, and this is very much that.
This system is also used to great effect as the book goes on, but especially when Clef opens locks, because when he does, Sancia can actually hear him doing it, and he does it by convincing the lock to open. Sometimes in a way that is really roundabout, and sometimes hilariously, depending on the lock. 😀
The whole book was indeed engrossing and difficult to set aside, but especially the last quarter of it was a damn thrill ride of ups and downs and things coming to light so I spent the afternoon with my nose entirely in this book rather than doing actual work and other work-related activities. Whoops! 😀
Anyone that regularly reads my reviews (hi mom!) knows that I love comparing things I like to other things (it’s just the way my brain works, I guess). So this one is, to me, something like Mistborn and the Craft Sequence with some Gentlemen Bastards sprinkled on top. Annnnnd that sounds pretty awesome, yeah? Well, yeah, that’s because it is pretty awesome. If you liked any of those, you’re very probably going to like this one as well. I sure did!
The only complaint I had, and it is one that I have legitimately made about other books I really liked as well… the word ‘fuck’ very clearly has a stand-in in this book. It’s used the same way, in the same instances, and with the same context as the f-bomb would be. It’s thrown around a lot, hell, even the root of the word is even explained at one point, to give it legitimacy as a curse word, I guess. Other curse words are present (and present quite abundantly at times, which I loved… as I do ^_^). Fuck is the only word that is changed here, and it disappointed me because, like I have said about other books that have done this, it made the whole thing seem censored for a sensitive audience, which honestly somewhat cheapened the whole experience for me at times. It made my eyes roll at other times. I’m just saying. If you mean fuck, and you quite obviously do, don’t pussyfoot around it, just say it. It’ll be okay. It’s only a word (in a book where words are quite important in their way), and I’m pretty sure that using the f-bomb isn’t any worse than, say… describing a human body literally exploding, for example.
But, f-bombs aside, all told I really liked it quite a bit, and I will absolutely continue reading this series as it comes out. I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT! I had 4.5/5 stars of an excellent time with this book. I’d recommend it to fans of hard magic systems and thieves pulling a bit of magic-filled heists. Fun times!
Thanks again to Crown via NetGalley for the review copy!