We’re already at the fourth book in the series, so I’ll have to break my spoiler policy a little and talk about the events of the first two books, and also a little about character development. Minor spoilers, mind you, but if you’re completely new to the series it would be better for you to head over to this other post where I talked about the first books in the series. That said…
This book picks up shortly after the third, with Jane and her husband travelling to Murano because they want to study a new technique that combines glamour (aka magic) with glass. Their ship is attacked by corsairs en route to Venice, and their host Lord Byron (!!!) has left the city to pursue some love affair, so our protagonists are left stranded with no money and no friends, in a time where contacting their families in another country means sending a letter and hoping in a couple of months it will arrive. In short, they need to use their wits and their skills to survive, and they end up tangled in a scheme that the back cover describes as Jane Austen meets Ocean’s Eleven. To be honest, I thought it was way better than Ocean’s Eleven.
First off, the good bits. Kowal is a good writer, she knows how to pace the story and how to paint vivid descriptions without being verbose. And she’s definitely done her research. I’m wary of any book set in Italy because most of them are wildly inaccurate, but the bits of language were mostly correct, aside from using polizia (police) instead of the proper poliziotto or agente di polizia (policeman) when referring to individual agents. But the rest of the book’s Italian was pretty good, and after establishing that Jane and her husband spoke the language, most of the dialogue was written in English with occasional remarks. (See, authors, you don’t need to paste your draft in Google Translate to sell me on the fact that we’re in a different country!)
I love heist books — if you follow us on Twitter you might have seen me flailing over Coin Heist whose review will be posted soon — so I was excited when I saw the direction that the book was taking. And this was a good heist book. With a good heist, it’s not enough to have the heroes put on a fake moustache and sneak past the hapless villains: you need to trick the reader, make me think that everything is going well and then throw a wrench in the plan. Or conversely, have something unexpected and dramatic happen and then reveal that it was part of the plan all along. All good heist shows/films/books have this element of tricking the reader, and Kowal does it like a pro. In the acknowledgements she says that Scott Lynch shared heisty tips with her, and this fills me with glee because Lynch is the author my favourite book ever, The Lies of Locke Lamora, which is also a fantasy heist. Two of my favourite writers talking about one of my favourite subject, excuse me while I giggle my myself for a while and clap like an overexcited seal.
Cons of this book… well, it’s kind of sad to admit it after four books, but I realized that I don’t care about Jane and Vincent very much. Vincent is too stubborn and pig-headed, and 90% of Jane’s thoughts revolve around Vincent, and since she’s the narrator we keep having to see her worrying and running after Vincent and so on. In fact, the first chapters of the book were kind of dull because there were just the Vincents and nothing was happening yet. The pace picked up later, and I especially enjoyed the secondary cast, which included the aforementioned Lord Byron, nuns, a puppet player, pirates, glassblowers, and more. Could’ve done with less Vincent and more nuns, to be honest, and that’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d type, but there you are.
Overall, a strong entry in the series and a definite improvement over the second and third book, which suffered from a bit of a slump. I’ve read that there’s a fifth book coming out last year and it’s supposed to be the last, so on one hand I’m sad because I like this series, but on the other I’m glad we won’t have to slog through 60 books describing Jane’s life until she dies of old age. Fingers crossed that I like the next book as much as this.