Ah, Thief With No Shadow. Add this one to the ever growing list of books that leave me utterly baffled as to what the term “romantic fantasy” is supposed to mean. Whatever else it is, this delightful little romp of a fantasy tale is no romance novel.
Though Thief With No Shadow is of a serious nature, it has the benefit of not being extremely bogged down and dreary as seems to be the current fantasy trend. There’s no hoards of starving peasants living in mud and dung and no evil overlords acting in ways that really ought to get them killed but don’t due to contrivance. The book focuses more around its characters than its world-building, making for a delightfully light, easy read.
Thief With No Shadow centers mainly around Melke and Bastian, but also involves Melke’s brother Hantje and Bastian’s sister Lianna. Despite a little bit of melodrama and angst, the characters are mostly very sympathetic. In a longer novel they might seem a bit underdeveloped, but Thief With No Shadow, being standalone, leaves the reader with a sense of events before the setting of the book having developed the characters, and also a sense that they will go on developing after (or, you know, would if they were real). And though it may not be overwhelming with mysteries and twists, the plot is still very satisfying, leaving the reader with a feeling of closure that seems to be getting ever rarer in books.
Even her prose, though perfectly competent, is simple in a way that is mostly easy on the brain, pleasantly so in fact. I like when an author can write beautifully or poetically and pull it off, but Emily Gee’s simpler style is also much appreciated.
The book isn’t without problems, of course. Gee’s lack of world building leads to a few issues. One of them is confusion as to why Bastian’s hatred for wraiths (as Melke and Hantje are, due to the nature of their magic) is so intense. It seems a bit hypocritical of him to hate them for having magic when both he and his sister do as well. Eventually it’s sort of alluded to that wraiths often use their magic for ill purposes, and eventually Bastian comes to understand Melke and why she did what she did. But for a lot of the novel I found him irritating and, when misfortune kept befalling him, I couldn’t help feeling like he deserved it. Though while also a bit on the angsty side himself, even Bastian becomes likable by the end. Still, if the problem with wraiths had been explained better and sooner (and Bastian’s own personal problems) it would’ve gone a long way for the character and the book as a whole.
The other thing was the explanations of the magical creatures and their behavior. Intriguing though some of it was, it was built on so little that it left me with some questions. Why, if these creatures have such power (particularly over humans) are they mostly content to leave them be? Saying “well they’re just different than humans” doesn’t quite cut it, especially when three of them are humanoid in nature. These things wouldn’t stand up well in a trilogy or series, but are easy enough to push aside for a single book.
As to the “romantic” aspect of it… well, I suppose technically there is some eventually, but it’s hardly a major facet of the novel. Thief With No Shadows is simply driven more by its characters than its world.