Kaz, a well-known lieutenant for the Dregs (a street gang) is given the opportunity for the payday of a lifetime. The catch? He and his crew must break into the Ice Castle, a fortress with a prison no one has ever broken into (or escaped from) and bring back an important prisoner… alive. In a world of magic, rival gangs, and shaky alliances, the greatest heist in the land may turn into the worst decision ever made.
Kaz is a bad guy doing bad things in a worse world. He walks with a limp, using a cane as both a mobility aid and a weapon. Kaz cannot stand to be touched, skin-to-skin. His backstory was interesting and his character’s actions felt real because of it.
The book is really about an ensemble cast, and the author gives all characters dimension and diversity. Outside of Kaz we have Inej, the religious spy who hates killing (I read her as Native or Latina). And Jesper, the gunslinger with a gambling problem (he isn’t white, but am unsure what he’d be considered). Wylan, a young man with a privileged past and an uncertain future accompanies them as well as a Grisha (magic-user) prostitute, and a man raised to hunt Grisha into extinction.
The settings were nice, but weren’t described into oblivion. I knew where the characters were, enough details to imagine the places, and that’s it.
Kaz wasn’t the only one with a backstory, many other characters had one as well, breaking into the flow of the “current story”. At first, this irritated me because I didn’t want to be pulled between the present and past. But, the backstories kept my attention and provided richness to the characters developing in my mind as I read. I began looking forward to the times I got another piece of the puzzle that made up each character. There was a scene or two where I didn’t realize the time transitioned, but that was rare.
The action was plentiful. There were explosions, gunfights, and breathless escapes. The pacing seemed right, after adjusting to the presence of the backstories.
The magic system in this book was pretty solid. There were different classes of magic with different Grisha able to do different things. It wasn’t the most unique concept, but it was interesting and served its purpose well.
This book might not be for everyone. There is violence, the presence of sex slavery (but no explicit rape). There is also a drug in this story that makes Grisha (magic-users) almost immediately addicted and has a large role in the novel.
There is a small aspect of this book, almost easy to miss, that I don’t know how to feel about. In this world, there are Grisha who are healers. Kaz has a limp because of a leg that set wrong after breaking and chooses not to get it fixed. (I find nothing wrong with not choosing a cure, in fact, it’s refreshing in fiction.) At one point, it mentions Kaz not fixing his leg because he there is no part of him that hasn’t been broken, or made stronger from the breaking. As if it were a badge, I guess.
(I have many thoughts on this, maybe best left for next week.)
I really liked and recommend this book. There is a sequel (out now) I will definitely be reading. I hope the next one is as exciting and rich as this one was.
One small warning, this book ends on a cliffhanger.