Do you know I’ve read more fantasy this year than any other genre and I only have like three books I’d recommend from the 20 I’ve read? My fantasy reading this year has kind of bummed me out. Anyway, I am happy to have another book to add to that roster!
Blurb (from GoodReads): In Cantagna, being a sorcerer is a death sentence.
Romy escapes her hardscrabble upbringing when she becomes courtesan to the Shadow Lord, a revolutionary noble who brings laws and comforts once reserved for the wealthy to all. When her brother, Neri, is caught thieving with the aid of magic, Romy’s aristocratic influence is the only thing that can spare his life—and the price is her banishment.
Now back in Beggar’s Ring, she has just her wits and her own long-hidden sorcery to help her and Neri survive. But when a plot to overthrow the Shadow Lord and incite civil war is uncovered, only Romy knows how to stop it. To do so, she’ll have to rely on newfound allies—a swordmaster, a silversmith, and her own thieving brother. And they’ll need the very thing that could condemn them all: magic.
This sucked me in right away- not so much because of the plot, but I loved the characters and the world building/setting. The setting is inspired by renaissance Italy. Although we could detract points for it being a European setting, I do think Italy is one of the rarer European settings, and I also felt like Glass did an excellent job of it making it unique (this is a godless empire for starters, which was kind of refreshing). Cantagna has seen it’s share of tyrant rulers and strife, so a decent portion of the population lives in poverty, keeping the setting dark and gritty.
Adding to that, Romy is a courtesan, and it was actually a relatively positive portrayal of a sex worker, so that was refreshing too. I will say though: the Shadow Lord technically owns Romy, which we all know is wrong, but there is no violence, no rape, etc. She is grateful and happy to be with him (her life before him sucked). So it definitely delves into some muddy water there. I’d compare the relationship to that of the one between Belle and Beast, just something I want to note because I can understand why this would be problematic for some readers. I don’t want to say this is a small part of the book, because their relationship is integral to the plot, but it also manages to not be the focus. As an aside, there are no sex scenes and very little romance.
Romy won me over right from the beginning as a character. There’s a scene where the wife of the Shadow Lord is gloating about her being cast out, and Romy instead of responding in a catty or jealous way, offers to help his wife however she can should she ever need it. In all their dealings with each other she always acted as the “bigger” person so to speak, and it was just nice that it never defaulted into the trope of two girls fighting over a man.
The main characters in this book are all sorcerers and I loved the variety of abilities they possessed among them (they only seem to have one ability each). I also really loved the diverging arcs between Romy and her brother Neri. Romy helps her brother grow a lot as a character, while at the same time, mourning the loss of her Shadow Lord and her old life, we see her enter a sort of downward spiral. Again- it was a refreshing arc for a character to have.
It wasn’t quite a five star read for me for a couple of very minor reasons. The first is that this is a slow burn sort of book where we don’t get to the heart of the plot until well after the halfway point. Many of the things prior to that are all set up, and as a result the plot felt a little thin (the characters and setting were so great, I just didn’t care that much in this case).
My second issue is with a stylistic choice that was made, that makes perfect sense for the book and I can see why the author did it that way, but is one that I found really jarring and kind of took me out of the moment when I encountered it. I can’t really say more than that without spoilers, but when it happened, it felt like I was reading an entirely different character. It only happens in a couple of chapters so again, no big deal.