Genre: YA Fantasy
Synopsis: Kaz is in the upper echelons of a gang, biding his time until he can take revenge on a more established member of the criminal underworld. Then he’s contracted to perform an impossible job for a ridiculous amount of money–breaking a political prisoner out of another country’s stronghold. Failure is almost certain. But the job is just too tempting to pass up.
So he assembles a team, each of whom participates for their own reasons. They come up with an audacious plan, one that might actually work if everything goes right…but things always go wrong. And the team is left scrambling to see if they can cooperate to survive, if they can come together despite their disparate reasons for being there. Or if they never make it out alive at all.
POV: Third person, mostly from the POV of five of our teenage criminals.
I have been waiting to get sucked into a multiple point-of-view YA fantasy, and this is that fantasy. This is a heist adventure, following a group of criminal teenagers pulling off an impossible mission. But each character acts on deeply personal reasons, and we get to see those reasons from their own perspectives. (Here’s a great interview at Disability in Kidlit with Leigh Bardugo about the book and its characters.)
Kaz is the leader, the boy who’s turned into a ruthless power broker after the city took everything he had and nearly killed him. He lives to exact retribution for what he lost, and if that means becoming every bit as mean and heartless as the man who did this to him, then he’ll do it.
Inej was born to a people without a nation, and lost that when she was stolen from her family. She reshaped herself as a stealth fighter and spy to survive, after Kaz got her out of her indenture. Her loyalty to him is her paying him back for the risk he took on her. But this job will pay off the entirety of her debt to him, and she’ll finally be free to pursue her own dreams.
Jesper is a reckless gambler who can’t resist the next game. He’s there for the risk, and for his friendship with Kaz, though he’s opposed to the inclusion of another member of the team–Wylan, a more innocent guy from a more innocent world. Through the course of their journey, his relationship with Wylan must change and grow.
Nina is a soldier and spy, whose people have been at war with the nation she’s to infiltrate now. If they find out who she is and the power she holds, they’ll kill her. She joins Kaz’s team in exchange for his help freeing one of her former enemies, who’d grown into a friend.
Matthias has a complicated relationship with Nina. He was taught to hate what she is, but then she saved his life. The time he spends with her only leaves him more confused, until he’s left unsure if she’s a person or a monster. If she’s genuine, or if she seeks to betray him. Roped into a mission against his own people, he’s looking for a way out that lets him do what he thinks is the right thing.
There’s a lot of character dynamics to work with here. Nina and Matthias have a contentious history. They can’t decide if they’re friends, lovers, or enemies. Matthias and Kaz are complete opposites as people. Matthias is honest and strives to do what he believes is right, while Kaz is devious and willing to do anything in pursuit of his goals. Inej and Kaz are always off-balance with each other, never quite sure where they stand. Nina, Inej, and Jasper strike up sweet friendships with each other. Then Jesper and Wylan go from a complete lack of understanding and animosity, to the beginnings of a romance.
It’s interesting to watch them all make their decisions and their mistakes from such personal places.
Then there’s the heist itself, which has plenty of climactic moments. Most of them are more clever and unusual than straight up fights, as well, which I really appreciate. The tense moments when the characters are pulling off some impossible feat…those work really well.
I loved this story, and am eagerly waiting for the next book.