A relentless thief. A magical device. And a heist to change everything.
Kef Cutmark is the greatest pirate in the Twisted Seas. Just ask her – she’s more than happy to talk about her exploits. She’s a woman of sharp wit and an even sharper sword. She’s killed sea monsters, toppled kings, stolen priceless artifacts, and made a hefty sum of gold along the way. But her charming, roguish exterior hides a dark past. As a child, she was a slave in Zorith – a tangled jungle of a thousand boats, all lashed together to make a floating city-ship. After a life spent running from her past, she’s had enough.
Now, it’s time for revenge.
Zorith is powered by a magical device that draws energy from lightning. Mysterious, unique, and locked in an unbreachable tower, it’s the envy of Zorith’s rivals. And Kef? She’s here to steal it. To do that, she’ll need a water-breathing mutant, a grumpy architect, and a deaf alchemist. If Kef can take the device, it will cripple Zorith, and serve out justice for what the city did to her. But with all the odds stacked against Kef, failure looks more likely. And if she fails, she’ll never find peace again.
Thank you to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
This story gripped me right away, from page one. It opens with Kef being dragged out of her cage in prison for her execution, and she seems to be having the time of her life. Kef is snarky, she is muscly, she is capable, confident, and smart. She definitely embodies a lot of tropes, but she feels like a well-rounded and unique character nonetheless. Despite being at her own execution, she is exactly where she needs to be, and it only takes a few pages for the action to start and for her break-out to take place. This is where we get to see phase one of her heist: free another prisoner who will join her team. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. If you hadn’t guessed it from the title already, this is a heist book! And it’s a brilliantly executed one. I think heists can be quite hard to write; it’s definitely the kind of story that adapts more easily to the screen, but it’s so satisfying when it’s well-executed on page. This was one of those times.
‘If she was anyone else she would have died a hundred times before now. But she hadn’t, because she wasn’t anyone else. She was Kef Cutmark, and just like all those other certain deaths she’d dragged herself away from, she’d drag herself out of this one, too.’
One of the things that really kept me hooked on The Thunder Heist was the world building. Kef lives in a world in which land is not safe for humans, so they have built themselves great city-ships and live on the ocean. Some travel through the seas, and some, like Zorith, are large enough that they stay in one place and feel protected. This is an incredibly cool setting, and there are times I would forget, such as when a character was at the opera, or at a party, or in an inn and then suddenly something in the description would remind me that all of these indoor spaces were in ships and boats. It really adds to the atmosphere. There’s even a hint at one point that this world once had Star Sailors, and that some of the metal that falls down to the earth from the debris belt that surrounds the planet are part of their old ships. I was super intrigued by this detail, and I hope it’s explored more in future books.
It is unclear if this world has any sort of specific magic system, but it does have mutants: certain people seem to change as they grow older, and either become gillers -attuned to water, with slitted eyes, gills, and webbed hands and feet- or wingers -attuned to the air, with wings and hollow bones. It’s not explained how this happens, but most of these people get taken and become slaves, working for governments or richer members of society.
One of the members of Kef’s crew, a young man names Squine, is a giller, and it’s really cool to see it up close. He’s also an interesting character because where Kef was looking for a strong and competent giller, Squine is an outcast and a weakling even among his own people. This creates an interesting dynamic, and Squine is not the only atypical member of the group…
With a relatively small cast, this book was very character-focused, and I really enjoyed reading about them all. Kef, who is already very cool, scored further points with me for being twenty-nine years old, because so many of the books that exist in this vein tend to have their badass female characters be as young as possible within the context. But I liked having a character that has already lived a relatively long life for a fantasy book main character. The other two members of her team are also older than average; Gabine, the architect, is in her seventies, and she is a lovely grumpy cynic. Harold, the alchemist, is in his forties and is a kindly, rotund man who simply goes along with the heist because he cares about Kef and knows how important it is to her. These two definitely weren’t featured enough, but I know this book was quite short, and most of the character development was focused on Kef, as the protagonist.
Overall, a really good first book in this new series. Concise in its storytelling, yet still weaving an intriguing, credible world that seems to extend beyond the pages, so that you are left wondering what else might be out there. The ending took me by surprise, but was also very satisfying; it tied up the story while still leaving room for more, and I very much look forward to visiting the Twisted Seas again.
Published: 19th October 2020 by Undergrove Press
Genre: Steampunk fantasy
Series: The Twisted Seas, book one
Narration style: third person past tense, one main point of view
Format read: eARC
Copy owned: not currently, but will probably preorder
Trigger Warnings: violence, references to drug addiction, torture, confinement, and slavery. Brief description of animal death.