"A fresh, compelling twist on fantasy, without magic or sorcery."– Kirkus Reviews
In the second installment of McGarry and Ravipinto’s (Duchess of the Shallows, 2012) fantasy series, a young woman seeks to find balance between her past life as a scholar’s daughter and her new life as a rising star among criminals.
Newly accepted into the Grey, a secret society of thieves, Duchess strikes up a business partnership with Jana, a singularly gifted weaver. Jana has been forced to work on the outskirts of town after being denied entry into the weavers’ guild due to her race, class and outsider status. Duchess is certain that with Jana’s skills and her own connections and unorthodox business savvy, they can build a profitable partnership—but only if Duchess’ calculated scheme to secure Jana’s admittance into the guild is successful. Meanwhile, she also wants to employ the bodyguard services of Pollux, the empress’s former servant and lover, who’s incarcerated for acknowledging his parentage of the empress’ son. As part of an elaborate and hazardous scheme, Duchess plans to break Pollux out of jail by faking his death. As she pursues her plans, Duchess makes a few new enemies along the way. She’s also confronted with the past she left behind as the daughter of the late hero and scholar Marcus Kell, as she forms a reluctant acquaintance with Darley, a long-forgotten childhood rival and the daughter of her father’s best friend. As she uncovers secrets of days gone by, she feels torn between her well-established life as a cunning thief and clever businesswoman and the very different life she might have had. Readers unfamiliar with the series’ first book may find some details of the world’s social structure to be unclear, but the intricately plotted schemes stand alone in most other respects, and newcomers will likely find them easy to follow. The authors, through their powerful portrayals of strong-willed characters, skillfully examine and confront issues of race, class, gender and sexual orientation in a way that’s rarely, if ever, done in medieval fantasy. In a manner that’s both modern and timeless, they examine the ways that strong women forego niceties to fight for the respect so easily granted to men. Overall, the novel is an engaging account of a young woman’s quest to succeed because of her outsider status, rather than in spite of it.
A thrilling story of thievery and self-discovery.
Co-authors McGarry and Ravipinto jump into the fantasy genre: “The time had come to leap before she looked,” with the rest of the book explaining the heroine’s dramatic decision.
Once Duchess’ situation is understood, one can’t blame the 16-year-old for jumping. Originally an aristocrat and now an orphaned bread girl, she lives in a murky city called Rodaas in an unspecified setting that suggests medieval Earth. The world is run on a system resembling modern gang wars—classes manipulate each other and use identifying colors. In fact, life in Rodaas is often described as a game; those who understand have the best odds of survival. When the Grey—a shadowy group that operates between the power elite and the peasants—invites Duchess to join them, she knows this opportunity might save her. The invitation comes via a token that leads her to a contact who assigns her the dangerous mission of stealing a dagger from an evil lord whom unseen players want eliminated. Duchess’ survival instinct screams to reject the mission, but that instinct also knows it’s her only chance to escape the slums and learn why her family was murdered. She can’t do it alone, so she persuades her friend, the beautiful Lysander, to help. Their plan is as dangerous as daily life in Rodaas, where the stones have ears and transgressions can be fatal. McGarry and Ravipinto portray this world in deft prose that weaves back story and plot into a smooth narrative peopled with credible, appealing characters. Although it takes perhaps too long to figure out the story behind the Greys, as well as to understand Duchess’ motivation in undertaking her mission, Rodaas is so deeply realized, and the conflicts so captivating, that the patient storytelling pays off. The story pulls in the reader from the first sentence and doesn’t let go.
A fresh, compelling twist on fantasy, without magic or sorcery.