McGarry, Neil; Ravipinto, Daniel -- The Duchess of the Shallows

Street urchin attempts to inveigle her way into the Thieves' Guild in a fantasy city. Expected trimmings include prostitutes, secret societies, priestesses, and a theft caper through high society.

The book does a decent job of solidifying these stock elements. Duchess is an orphan but not a street orphan; she's been working in a bakery since she was seven. (Yay for baking in fantasy, although this (sadly) does not achieve Sunshine levels of pastry obsession.) The setting is non-magical (so far) fantasy; the city has a history, with class tension and revolution hovering (so far) in the background. And there are several shady-and-or-criminal organizations in the city, with complicated interactions. This book most directly shows us the Red, a straight-up protection racket, but the interesting folks are the Grey. Schemes are clearly afoot. Sequels to follow.

The strong points here are lots of politicking and negotiation, not just within the underworld but at and between every level of society. Shopkeepers pay off the Red, brothel-keepers manage rich clients, nobles hire poor workers as servants. The book gives good glimpses of all these facets. On the down side, the setting a little too unexamined-standard-Euro-fantasy, and the Grey -- which ought to be the most distinctive element -- is underexplained and taken for granted by the narrative. Should have had either more focus or more sense of mystery. But this is a marginal complaint.

(Interest: I know Daniel Ravipinto on the Internet, and he sent me a free copy of the book.)

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