An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass is an enticing entry point to what is sure to be a fun and intriguing series.
Romy was born into extreme poverty in the tough Beggar’s Ring of late 900s Italy, but you wouldn’t know it when you meet her in An Illusion of Thieves. That’s because she was sold as a child to train to be a prostitute and companion to the Shadow Lord, Sandro, the respected and revered political leader of Cantagna.
Having been kept in his home and trained by his staff in a variety of subjects and trades, she’s grown accustomed to a higher class of living and has gained an impressive education. On top of that, she’s developed a very special relationship with Sandro, to the point that she’s fallen in love with him.
It’s clear that Sandro has love for Romy as well, but when her brother, Neri, is caught thieving in the Beggar’s Ring with the help of magic, his hands are tied. The punishment for sorcery is death, or worse. He spares Neri’s life, but it results in Romy’s banishment from his life and home.
Within miraculously few pages, Cate Glass manages to explore Romy’s past, desires, hopes and dreams deeply enough that this blow is absolutely crushing to experience as a reader. She succeeds in commanding a deep sense of betrayal, unfathomable loss and grief for a character that you’ve met only moments before. It sets you up for a wild and fulfilling ride with Romy for the rest of An Illusion of Thieves.
When Romy returns to her family and the Beggar’s Ring, you get to experience the horrors of the poverty and cruelty right alongside her. When she’s saddled with looking after her delinquent brother during his probation, you get the full sense of her burden.
It’s both entertaining and inspiring to watch as Romy first examines her new reality, then comes to terms with it, and finally takes charge of it. She’s a character who you’re instantly compelled to root for. Instead of wallowing in the despair of what she’s lost, she harnesses the skills that her time in Sandro’s home provided her and seeks out writing jobs to keep her and her brother alive.
Neri isn’t the only sorcerer in the family. Romy is also blessed, or cursed, depending how you look at it, with magic. This creates a sense of risk and foreboding in everything Romy and Neri do, as sorcerers are constantly being “sniffed” out, which is both one of the creepiest and coolest parts of An Illusion of Thieves.
Glass uses magic in an interesting way. Each sorcerer we meet has a unique gift, rather than all having the ability to use all magic. This makes each discovery of magic even more interesting, as a whole new world of possibilities is introduced.
What ended up being my favorite thing about An Illusion of Thieves was something I hadn’t expected at all. At a certain point, the story becomes very Ocean’s 11-esque and from then on it goes full heist.
First, in typical Oceans style, the team is formed. Obviously Romy and Neri make up the core of the team, but they are joined by a swordmaster, a silversmith, and a few other people who help them along the way. Everyone has their own talents and abilities to bring to the table, which makes for an extremely entertaining, magical heist.
It’s a case of outcasts banding together to save a society that’s shunned them. The underdogs taking on the big guys. Luckily, the conclusion of An Illusion of Thieves makes it obvious that this aspect will be the basis for the future books in the Chimera series!
Other than that, An Illusion of Thieves leaves the series open for an even deeper level of political intrigue, along with some slow burn relationships, both romantic and otherwise, that I’m very excited about. Coming from the Harry Potter and Hunger Games generation, I definitely appreciate a relationship that slowly stews under the surface while the rest of the action bubbles.
If you’re looking for a more adult fantasy saga, you should definitely give An Illusion of Thieves a try. Bonus fact, Cate Glass is actually a pseudonym for Carol Berg, so if you’re a fan of her writing you should definitely start reading An Illusion of Thieves immediately!