City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
Disclaimer: In the Acknowledgements in a long list of names you’ll see Emily. That’s me! Natalie is a member of the BSpec writing group and I read early drafts of the beginning of the novel.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Synopsis: Tina is a thief. A really good one. And she wants to use her skills to get revenge against the man who killed her mother, Mr Greyhill. One problem: she doesn’t have any proof. Another problem: Tina knows very little about her mother’s life in the Congo before they came to Kenya as refugees, but Mr Greyhill’s motive was somehow connected to that past. The solution: the Goondas, the gang Tina works for, are eager to access a mining executive’s bank accounts and help her enact her scheme.
Everything is going according to plan until Tina is caught mid-break-in by Mr Greyhill’s son and her childhood friend Michael. Michael is eager to prove his father’s innocence and agrees to help Tina find the proof she needs, but the Goondas are breathing down her neck to complete the heist and get their payday. And as Tina learns more about the mystery of her own past more questions are raised than answered.
As a reader: This is one of the few books I’ve ever read where the twist actually surprised me. That alone earns City of Saints & Thieves five stars.
Although set in a fictional city, the world in which Tina lives feels very real, from small details like giving her sister pencils for school and Tina’s many tattoos to the violence and danger of being in a gang. And it is a GANG, not some YA plot device.
Tina is also an incredibly interesting character to read. She has a strong voice, framing the narrative as a series of rules for thieves that she is giving to the reader. She is confident and competent and hard. She pushes people away, she lashes out and makes herself hard to like, but she is still so sympathetic and her voice sucks you in from the very first rule.
As a writer: I’ve never written first person present tense, but this novel makes me itch to try it.