It is hard to find words to describe my experience with Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson. It captured my interest and challenged my patience. Sometimes this story was a smooth, seductive waltz. And sometimes it was an over-the-top two-step. I got really good at following Pearson’s lead, but it was a commitment.
Kazi of Brightmist is a member of the Rahtan, the queen’s elite guard. She’s been sent to infiltrate the Ballenger’s outlaw kingdom to find a violent war criminal. At the same time Jase Ballenger, the newly appointed Patrei of Hell’s Mouth, is trying to run his kingdom with his family following the unexpected death of his father. Jase’s situation is not helped by the arrival of Kazi and the Rahtan. The two are immediately put at odds but must find a way to work together to better serve their individual interests. Jase wants his kingdom to be officially recognized by Kazi’s queen, and Kazi wants to infiltrate his inner circle to get leads on the war criminal. As the pair clashes, they must learn who they are and where their loyalties lie as their duty is put to the test.
While I commend Pearson for taking this story to unexpected places, there were many stretches where I became incredibly bored. The pacing is all over the place and it had major lulls that made the story drag. Kazi and Jase dance around each other for ~500 pages. Dance of Thieves is less about Kazi’s mission and more so about finding ways to make her feel guilty or put her off balance. These are the moments that make the story slow down, and when the mission ultimately kicks into gear, it’s over and done so quickly that there was little satisfaction in the result. There was a lot of time spent ingratiating Kazi into the Ballenger world, which is important to an extent. However, it took away from the climax because there was simply no space to give it room to breathe.
It may have been a long journey, but the best part of this book is seeing Kazi and Jase’s worlds collide. I love when characters try to make sense of their different perspectives, especially when they’re forced into a shared situation. Pearson does a fantastic job folding us into the Ballenger empire. She knows how to make Kazi uncomfortable, and we can see her straddling the line between duty and the Ballengers. We spend a lot of time on Jase’s home turf, but Kazi finds a way to open Jase’s eyes beyond the kingdom his family carved out. Both these characters evolve in interesting ways, and I was delighted when one accommodated the other.
As far as characters go, Jase stole the show. I could have read an entire book following him and his family as they managed their outlaw kingdom. The background for the Ballenger empire is fascinating. I love a rebellious family that is loyal to a fault. Pearson gives us glimpses of the Ballenger ecosystem, but the story is so much bigger than them so the focus shifts to Kazi and her mission for the queen above all else. Both Kazi and Jase are complicated characters, but the development surrounding Jase seemed much stronger. I liked the clarity surrounding Jase—who he is, where his priorities lie, and how far he is willing to go. Kazi is more elusive, which to be fair plays into her character. She is a messy wild card and for some reason I found myself leaning into Jase’s stable foundation more than her chaos.
I am not sure how I feel having finished Dance of Thieves. There were elements like the Ballengers that truly captivated me, but there were others that threw me off and made me miss a step. However, I am curious enough to know where this story goes next, so maybe you will find something to hold onto in this story as well.
Rating: Dance of Thieves – 6.5/10