Thief with No Shadow by Emily Gee

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.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Scooper Speaks –  “It was alright and slightly different from what I’ve been reading”
Twisted Kingdom – “disappointed”

The Laurentine Spy by Emily Gee

The Laurentine Spy
Emily Gee
I got Emily Gee’s two books for my birthday after both @angiebookgirl and @booksmugglers pimped the books to me on twitter. I’d already been eying this author because of recommendations at the Paperbackswap forums, but those two tweeters tipped the scales. When I was in high school my favorite genre was fantasy, and in college I began to get more into authors who wrote fantasy with romantic elements like Sharon Shinn, Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, and Anne Bishop. Emily Gee seemed to fall under this category, so I’ve been looking forward to trying out her books.

P.S. I love how atmospheric this cover is. Very nice.

The Premise: The Laurentine Protectorate (aka Laurent) and the Coronese Empire (aka Corona) are neighboring countries who are in a constant state of unease with each other. Corona has a taste for acquiring more land and is constantly trying to add to it’s holdings. It is a place where men love war and debauchery, and will fall on their swords for failure, and women are demure and do all that their husbands say. Laurentine is less restrictive and believe in more artistic pursuits than Corona, but they also have their own issues, like a very frivolous upper class.

There are three Laurentine spies in Corona. They meet in the catacombs under the Coronese citadel, know each other as One, Two, and Three, and follow the orders of their guardian. One pretends that he is a Coronese lord (and well-known fool), called Lord Ivo, Two is a servant, and Three is a lady of the court named Lady Petra.

Athan is One and Saliel is Three. As spies they have an interest in one another, but they don’t know who the other really is. Saliel/Lady Petra dislikes Lord Ivo, and Athan/Lord Ivo thinks Lady Petra is the epitome of a Coronese lady: virtuous and subservient, and therefore not his type, but is drawn to her red hair.

Meanwhile Saliel has a couple of secrets -her birth in the slums and the ability to “hold” someone with her eyes. She knows that if her birth was known, she would be shunned by any respectable member of society, and for her ability, she could be burned as a witch. Saliel and her fellow spies’ problems are further compounded when a Spycatcher known for getting results is brought in.

My Thoughts: There are a lot of suspenseful moments in this book. First there’s the problem of being spies and trying to find out secret military information without getting caught. The ways Saliel, Petra and Two found out things and then added them together to discover Corona’s plans was fascinating. Then when the Spycatcher is brought in because they did a good job and Corona is sure spies had to have discovered the plans, their interaction with the Spycatcher were intense.

Saliel’s fears of discovery are two-fold. Being a spy and her magic. Both Corona *and* Laurent have a fear of witches, who get burned in giant bonfires whenever one is caught. The whole town is involved and loves to see a witch burn, because these creatures have the ability to make people do things against their will, and there is a lot of fear attached to such a power. Saliel’s ability is not that great, but it’s still enough for her to die if anyone found out about it.

So there are intense moments when the hero and heroine are close to getting caught, but sometimes the pacing still felt a little slow as they went through their daily lives at the citadel. These seemed to show what the world was like however so I kept reading. What really kept me going was wanting to see what happens when Athan and Saliel realize who the other is! I wanted to see what this would mean for their hidden feelings. It felt like they’d never find out, while their guardian knew about it kept it from each other when I thought it would have been better for them to know. He seemed to not see them as people but rather tools (an attitude he had throughout the book which made me dislike him greatly). Saliel and Athan’s complex relationship was my favorite aspect of the book.

So dislikes: I had a couple of problems with the book, but they were (in my mind) minor ones. One was believing that a Spycatcher with the ability to make people tell him the truth didn’t just go up to everyone and ask if they were an enemy spy. Ok, yes, the story would be much shorter and just wouldn’t have worked, but it irked me, and I decided to believe he liked to toy with people and wasn’t the type of person to just ask – it would have been too easy for him. The other problem I had was how at every discovery Athan made about who Saliel really was, he balked, and a convenient event would happen that made him realize how silly his concerns were. I would have preferred him to come to the realizations through some soul searching without something dire happening as if to smack the point into his head.

Overall: Liked the story a lot, especially the romantic part of it – it was the slow, subtle romantic build-up I like reading, which went well with the fantasy parts of it. I do think this belongs in the fantasy section, not in romance however. There were a couple of minor issues I had with the plot that I described in my thoughts above, and at times the pacing was a bit slower than I’d have liked, but nothing that would keep me from reading this author’s books in the future. I think I’m going to keep getting her books, and I love that these are standalones! Yes! I recommend this author for those who like Sharon Shinn and Anne Bishop.

Other reviews:

The Book Smugglers (very good, leaning towards and eight)
Lusty Reader (gave it a B+)
Fantasy Book Critic (highly recommended)