This was one of my birthday books last year which I’m finally getting to reading this year (eek, I fail against the almighty TBR). This is Emily Gee’s first book. I enjoyed her second, The Laurentine Spy, which I read and reviewed last year ()
The Premise: This is the story of two people. Melke is a wraith, someone who can disappear, which is a magic hated by many. She’s never used her power to do wrong until now – because her brother was caught stealing from the fire-breathing salamanders, Melke stole a necklace from the sal Vere family in exchange for her brother’s freedom. Bastian sal Vere is the man who Melke stole the necklace from, and he’s furious. He catches Melke, but too late – after she’s already given the salamanders his family’s necklace, and the only chance for him to break the curse put on his family by a psaaron generations ago.
My Thoughts: This is a fantasy with a romantic element – there is no lust at first sight but rather a slow build and was not the main focus although it is obviously there. In some ways I felt like Bastian is like a historical romance hero translated into a fantasy world. He’s very proud and very very angry. When he catches Melke he hates her and shows her a barely contained violent facet of himself. Melke reacts stoically but feels secret guilt and shame for stealing something even if it was for her brother’s life. Actually there is plenty of shame and guilt on many of the characters parts as the story continues, because they all blame themselves for the situation they find themselves in.
In this world magic is accepted in every day life. Bastian can speak to dogs (I enjoyed Bastian’s interactions with his dog Endal), and his sister Liana can heal with her touch. Then there are magics that people despise – like the wraiths – Melke and her brother Hantje lost their family because of who they are. There are also terrible magical creatures who men avoid – the salamanders, the psaaron, lamia, and gryphons. In Thief with No Shadow , salamanders and psaaron are the two creatures that interact with the four characters, but the gryphons and lamia are mentioned as well.
For much of this book, I would say that although there was a lot of angsting by the characters, I felt like there would be a HEA because of the slow building romance of the main characters as well as a secondary one, and it reminded me of stories in the vein of Anne Bishop, or perhaps Sharon Shinn (I just reread my earlier Gee review and I said the same thing there). The characters have gone through a lot because of the curse or their magical legacy, but they are honorable and proud, and pretty much “Good”. This is something repeatedly illustrated as the third person focus moves between Bastian and Melke and to some extent their younger siblings. We see Bastian’s day-to-day despair and his attitude when he has to go into town where his family’s fall is well-known. The sal Vere lands, once rich, haven’t gotten any water although lands around them have. Their sheep are dying and their large and beautiful house is run down and empty of valuables. Melke’s family’s misfortune is obvious in their arrival far from their home and resorting to thievery, and she exchanges stories with Liana as how they got to this desperate point.
The back story of violence to Melke and her brother because their family are wraiths, and the heartbreak due to the curse put on the sal Veres I thought was heavy enough stuff, but Gee adds another aspect to all of this. The sadistic punishments the salamanders and psaaron inflict. There are mentions that past members of the sal Vere family were raped by the psaaron when he did not get what he wanted, and I thought that was violence aplenty. Unfortunately not. There is rape (off the page but the aftermath is described in detail) and forced sex in this story which I was hoping not to find but did. I question how it was handled or why we needed two such incidents. Because of that, even though there’s an HEA, my enjoyment of this book was tempered, and I prefer Gee’s second book, The Laurentine Spy.
The pacing of this book also felt a little slow because much of the time the characters are waiting for someone to heal from injuries – particularly in the first part when Melke has to wait for Hantje to recover so she can find out about the salamader’s cave. I know this also allows time for the characters to get to know each other as people, and for Bastian to cool down (it takes him a really long time), but the book was too easy to put down during this part of the book.
Overall: It’s a fantasy with romantic elements, but it also has rather dark elements as well. If it wasn’t for the rape and sadism, I’d say that this is a light fantasy and comfort read with everything turning out all right after all the characters go through (something that I like), but the path along to the HEA hits a wrong note for me. I found Emily Gee’s second book (The Laurentine Spy, also a standalone), better.