I was given this ARC by Crown Publishing! Thank you, guys!
Sancia is a young woman who’s working as a thief and her magic is something I haven’t encountered before which is a big plus – I’m a big sucker for originality since I read a few hundred books a year.
Sancia has the ability to sort of “read the minds” of inanimate objects. If she touches a wall, she immediately knows where all the loose bricks are, where the mortar is thickest, where the doors are located and where good handholds would be to scale the wall. If she touches the wheels of a carriage she will know what terrain it’s been over in the recent past. Even changing her clothes revolves around her magic since she can’t turn it off, clothes have unique sensory inputs for Sancia, and some material is more tolerable than others and it’s almost an overload for her to try and change from one material to the next. Eating meat isn’t an option for her, when she puts dead flesh in her mouth all she can sense is how it used to be alive, it tastes like rot and death to her – I found that bit really interesting. Human touch is the most unbearable of all the sensations though, she doesn’t exactly mind read, but when she touches another person she’s inundated with their feelings and desires and it’s completely overwhelming.
Sancia is poor, she’s living in The Commons of Tevanne and eating daily isn’t a guarantee, she lives in a very small apartment with barely anything in it, barely making ends meet. She’s been offered 20,000 Duvot if she can retrieve a box from inside a carriage down at the Waterfront of Tevanne. 20,000 Duvot is an absolute fortune, she could retire and move far away and live out her life in semi-luxury on a payment like that.
Just getting into the Waterfront is an ordeal, she has to climb through sewers, parachute in, and try and keep her presence unknown through the whole process. She finally finds the carriage she’s looking for and snags the box, but not without some hiccups. In order to get away she ends up setting the entire Waterfront on fire with a magic bomb that was more powerful than she had anticipated.
The little wooden box doesn’t look like it’s worth 20,000 Duvats, so she does a little poking around out of curiosity. Her powers don’t just let her see the lifestory of an object, but all the hidden aspects about it as well. So, when she touches the box she finds there’s a hidden compartment in the bottom, and in it she finds a key. It’s scrived in a way she’s never seen before, and doesn’t know what it could mean. Then when she picks the key up, it talks to her. Enter Clef, the sarcastic and upbeat key that doesn’t know why he was made, who made him, or how long he’s been around. All he knows is that he can unlock anything, including Scrived locks.
Scrivings are spells, more or less, that originated when humanity discovered an alphabet not that long ago that could be the alphabet of the Occidentals, a long forgotten race that held huge magical abilities. Using the alphabet, they’ve found ways of convincing objects that they are something they are not. An example would be the carriages, the Scrivings used on the carriages make the carriage believe it’s going downhill instead of on a flat surface, causing it to go forward. There are Scrived weapons as well, objects that have been told they are falling straight downwards so they can be used as projectiles.
Seeing that Clef has unknown Scrivings, and has an ability that is presently unknown to humanity, Sancia realizes the depths of shit she’s found herself in and has to think fast. There are people who would murder thousands to get their hands on Clef, and she’s going to have to run to keep them both safe.
The problem is, there aren’t many places to run to in Tevanne, it’s a divided city without any sort of police force. Each of the four major Merchant Houses have put up walls around their “portion” of the city, making it more like four city-states within a city rather than one united city. Sprawling in long corridors inbetween the four Merchant Campos is “The Commons” where people live who aren’t working for one of the families. Most of the people living in The Commons are poor, crime is rampant, and bodies lay in the streets where they were murdered. Sometimes body snatchers come to collect their bones for unknown purposes. There’s no clean water to drink, so most people drink watered down cane wine instead – it’s not a great place to be.
The other POV in this is Gregor, he’s a prince of sorts since his mother is the Founder and head of one of the Merchant Families. He could, in theory, use his family name to get him anywhere in the city and get anything he wants, but he doesn’t feel like that’s an honorable thing to do, and he resents his families’ position in power. He wants to create a police force, the first of its kind in Tevanne, but he’s mostly laughed at for trying. Even his own mother doesn’t think it’s going to be successful and writes off his efforts as a waste of time. He was trying to build this new police force in the Waterfront… the same Waterfront that was just burned down by Sancia. So, Sancia isn’t just running from the people she stole from, she’s also running from Gregor, who wants to hunt her down for the damage she caused in the Waterfront.
As I’ve said before, I really loved the magic system in this, not only is it a totally different sort of magic that I’ve seen before, but it’s also a magic system with consequences – Sancia will get incredibly powerful migraines if she uses her powers for too long. There were some problems though, there were a bunch of info dumps that could have been written in much more nuanced ways that wouldn’t be quite so jarring. There were also some things that got rather repetitious, especially in the beginning – I was told the same thing about the magic system several times over in the first few chapters. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, but “scrumming” was used as a curse word in this, and per usual, fake cursing didn’t go over with me well.
Overall, this was a very solid read and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
- industrial setting
- unique magic system
- multi pov
- female pov
- magic system more than mysterious magic
- thief POV
- class system
- Plot: 12.5/15
- Characters: 12.5/15
- World Building: 13.5/15
- Writing: 11/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality 13.5/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 8.25/10