Title: City of the Uncommon Thief
Author: Lynne Bertrande
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: February 9th, 2021 (Dutton BYR)
Synopsis: “Guilders work. Foundlings scrub the bogs. Needles bind. Swords tear. And men leave. There is nothing uncommon in this city. I hope Errol Thebes is dead. We both know he is safer that way.”
In a walled city of a mile-high iron guild towers, many things are common knowledge: No book in any of the city’s libraries reveals its place on a calendar or a map. No living beasts can be found within the city’s walls. And no good comes to the guilder or foundling who trespasses too far from their labors.
Even on the tower rooftops, where Errol Thebes and the rest of the city’s teenagers pass a few short years under an open sky, no one truly believe anything uncommon is possible within the city walls.
But one guildmaster has broken tradition to protect her child, and as a result the whole city faces an uncommon threat: a pair of black iron spikes that have the power of both sword and needle on the ribcages of men have gone missing, but the mayhem they cause rises everywhere. If the spikes not found and contained, no wall will be high enough to protect the city–or the world beyond it.
And Errol Thebes? He’s not dead and he’s certainly not safe.
Thank you to the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In a walled-off city, people live in tall iron towers, each organized by a trade or craft guild. Once a year, the city’s gates are opened to receive a shipment of food and other essentials, and also ship out the products the guilds make to the world outside. Teenagers can opt to become runners between the towers and spend a few years on the rooftops before taking up an apprenticeship with one of the guilds. New runners often play pranks and dare each other to complete tasks. When, during one of these dares, what looks like a pair of iron knitting needles are stolen, it quickly becomes clear there is something special about them as the regnat, the main administrator of the city, is willing to do anything it takes to get them back.
Plainly put, this book is confusing. The premise sounded really fascinating, and the setting even more so. I have to compliment the world building in this book. It’s really creative and the amount of mythology, lore and history make it obvious how much effort has gone into it. However, as intriguing as the world was, it was nearly impossible to understand. There are a multitude of references to epics and legends – particularly Shakespeare and Greek mythology, and several languages like French, Latin and English, but none of it seemed to tie into either the plot or world building in any relevant manner. It’s never made clear if this book is set in an alternate reality or how exactly it lines up with our own – if at all. There is just way too much going on with barely any explanation and it felt like being tossed into the middle of a series without any context whatsoever. Of course this could be just because I was reading an eARC, but right at the very beginning there are several pages of very confusing terminology that are used liberally in the book right from page one – and there was no way I was going to remember that much information which makes it rather redundant.
City of the Uncommon Thief is about Errol Thebes, narrated from the perspective of his cousin, Odd Thebes, a runner for Thebes Tower, as Errol gets caught up in the aftermath of the theft and goes on the run from the authorities. Now if the story had just focused on these two and the real plot, I could see this being a lot more interesting. While the theft of the mysterious knitting needle like objects is what the story starts with, it deviates unnecessarily (and lengthily) to other things such as what life is like for the runners, guild shipments and introduces a whole host of other characters. Secondary characters can be great for a story, but none of them felt substantially developed. The pacing was also too slow for my taste, and honestly, a book this heavy is what I might expect of the middle book in a series. Ultimately, it was the pacing and narration that caused me to lose interest before the quarter mark.
I’ve spoken very little of the actual plot in this review, and that was intentional, because I’m not certain I’ve grasped the entirety of it myself – in fact, I felt lost for most of the book. Though this book did have a lot of potential, especially given how rich the world building is, it was far too confusing and complicated for me to fully enjoy and it just didn’t work out for me.
City of the Uncommon Thief releases on February 9th, 2021.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!