I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Julia has the unusual ability to be . . . unseen. Not invisible, exactly. Just beyond most people's senses. It's a dangerous trait in a city that has banned all forms of magic and drowns witches in public Cleansings. But it's a useful trait for a thief and a spy. And Julia has learned--crime pays. Her latest job is paying very well indeed. Julia is posing as a housemaid in the grand house of Mrs. Och, where an odd assortment of characters live and work: A disgraced professor who sends her to fetch parcels containing bullets, spiders, and poison. An aristocratic houseguest who is locked in the basement each night. And a mysterious young woman who is clearly in hiding--though from what or whom?
Worse, Julia suspects that there's a connection between these people and the killer leaving a trail of bodies across the frozen city. The more she learns, the more she wants to be done with this unnatural job. To go back to the safety of her friends and fellow thieves. But Julia is entangled in a struggle between forces more powerful than she'd ever imagined. Escape will come at a terrible price.
I really wanted to love this, especially since there have been so many great reviews. The beginning starts out well enough. Julia is a girl who pretends to be a maid to spy on the people of the house. There was some suspense at the beginning, especially when she was looking through a room she wasn't supposed to be in and she was able to become unseen when someone unexpectedly came in. The way the author explained it, Julia didn't really vanish; she just kind of blends into the surroundings around her so she looks like a piece of furniture or something. I liked Julia. She was independent and fearless and she was very quick on her feet when she had to think of a lie.
I think the problem with this book, for me, was there was so much confusion around the plot and so many different characters. There was also a lot going on: there was Julia spying on people, the circle of criminals that Julia hung out with, lots of hysteria around witches and a king who drowned every woman he so much as suspected of being a witch, Julia's mother being drowned as a witch when she was younger, Mr. Darius living in the basement and making weird sounds, Julia's romance with fellow criminal Wyn, and then many other people that were living in the house Julia was spying on and then of course, there was the mystery client who hired her to spy on them in the first place. See how much was going on? I think because of that, I didn't really care about much going on and I really didn't care about any of the secondary characters. There were times where a name would be mentioned and I had to reread certain paragraphs to figure out who that person was. And most of the book was incredibly boring with not much happening . . . or, in some cases, too much. I could have done without the romance between Julia and Wyn. They slept around a bit, but it was sporadic and so when they started having problems, I had zero interest. I had more interest in the people Julia was spying on, but just when stuff would start happening with them, the author would start talking about something else. And one of the most interesting parts of the book, the fact that Julia was able to become unseen, was hardly talked about. Julia would go chapters and chapters without using her gift or even talking about it.
The world building was just so-so. I had no idea what time period this book took place in, but judging by the descriptions of transportation and the lower class and the clothes and the whole deal with the king and witches, it seemed to take place in the 1800's maybe. But the characters were so liberal with sex before marriage. On one hand, Julia and several other characters thought nothing of sleeping with whoever without marriage and on the other hand, one of the characters was whispered about because she had a kid out of wedlock. The liberal sexuality didn't fit with the time period. The characters also talked about "being careful" in order to prevent pregnancy, but again, if this book did take place in the 1800's, no one was really careful back then.
The only thing that really saved this book at all was the ending. There was a lot of action and Julia was able to use her abilities more and there were some villains. So yeah, plenty of action and suspense and drama. The problem was that I STILL didn't fully understand why these villains were after what they were after. The ending of the book didn't really end on a cliffhanger (I was grateful for that), but it was a little open-ended. I just don't think I have much interest in continuing this series.
Buy/Borrow/Skip: Skip this one.