I started writing the synopsis for this story and everything made it sound like pretty much what you’d get if you set a story in Discworld’s Thieves’s Guild merged with the Assassins’s Guild with a splash of the Fast and Furious franchise. Which it kind of is. But isn’t entirely.* And it works.
Tori Rivas gets busted while breaking into a secret file cabinet of a global tech firm. See, Tori was unaware that the firm is owned by one of the world’s most infamous villains (who, to be fair, is presumed dead, so how could she know?). She’s offered an opportunity to join a guild for villains (and adhere to their strict rules) or die.
Tori’s apprenticeship reveals a whole underworld hidden from most of humanity. Villains have rules? So they can peacefully co-exist with heroes? And her mentor, a legendary and presumed-dead villain, is living in a cookie cutter house in the suburbs, working as a middle manager, and has custody of his kids every other weekend? Worst career day ever.
I’m not new to Drew Hayes’s work, having read at least one book in each of his three previous series. I knew pretty well what I was going to get when I downloaded the sample of the book, and it met every single expectation. He constructs rich, internally-consistent fantasy worlds, he draws characters beautifully, and he regularly costs me hours of sleep because I’m only 45 minutes away from the end of this and everything is blowing up and the kid can figure out how to get the splinter out herself.
While this story is told from a couple of vantage points–scenes from “the bad guys” as well as various superheroes are seeded throughout the story–this is primarily Tori’s story. Her growth from a loner thief to a team player (on multiple teams) is a believable arc. If I had a complaint, it’s that it’s hard sometimes to get a read on Tori. I think her mentor Ivan gets a slightly better edit here.
This is not to say that I don’t have criticisms, and, frankly, as much as I like Hayes’s work, they are criticisms I have of much of his work. His books are too long. He legitimately works for it; the world is richer because we spend so much time with even the minor characters. However, there’s a lot of fat that could be trimmed here. To wit, we get it: the code is important to the villains’s guild. Some of the repetition makes sense because we’re watching Ivan hammer it home to Tori. But there are several points when we really didn’t need another paragraph about the importance of the code.
I absolutely recommend this book for folks who like cape fiction. The book is the first in a series, but the story is largely self-contained. There’s no cliffhanger to keep you on the hook for the next.
*There’s no sharp political/social satire here. It’s entirely earnest. With frenetic explosive endings.