There's just something inherently interesting about the professional cut-purse, burglar, pick-pocket, and (sometimes) assassin who deals with all the threats of a world full of the supernatural. The incredibly entertaining Thief games are an example of it. The idea that not only is thievery a profession but it is a codefied one with training, standards, masters, and apprentices. What sort of experience is this for someone growing up in it?
Viola (later Seven and Illanna) is the daughter of a debt-ridden man who ends up sacrificing his daughter to the Night's Guild. Stripped of her identity and trained in the secret arts, she soon finds herself popular with some of her fellow students while dire enemies of others. She is not the first woman in the Night Guild but it is rare enough to be remarked upon.
A lot of the book is the development of Illanna into a woman and her dealing with a lot of realizations about the world and how it works. She begins the story as a woman with great admiration for her father and a wish to return to her family. Gradually, as the book progresses, she switches her loyalty to the Night Guild as she starts to forge new bonds while remembering the fact her father was an abusive drunk. There's some hints her memories are influenced by her new circumstances and that ambiguity makes the book all the stronger.
Andy Pelloquin manages to nicely combine the Young Adult school drama of things like Harry Potter and Divergent with a Medieval crime story. Seven is a flawed heroine who is not the best at her job but gets by on sheer determination. Unfortunately, that very determination and pride invites anger as well as jealousy from her peers. Our heroine wants desperately to have the approval from the Guild she never got from her father but this means she tries to exceed in a group which is using her as a resource, nothing more.
Much of the book reads like a typical coming of age drama wedded with a fantasy setting, which isn't a bad thing because it's a well-written coming of age drama. Illanna is a wonderfully well-written character who is believable as a child as well as teenage girl. Her interests are believable and make her come off as a sort of roguish Hermione. It's a nice contrast because the leadership of the Night Guild comes in a range of the genuinely evil to, "willing to exploit Illanna but doesn't desire to be any more cruel than necessary to get their money's worth out of buying her."
Andy Peloquin writes a much darker story than Harry Potter, though. One element I didn't care for in the book is the fact there's a rape scene, which I didn't think was necessary. Nothing is shown on page but it felt like an unneeded addition. Contrasting this, Illanna is a protagonist who takes her lumps and actually has to spend time recovering from serious injury. She suffers injuries from beatings, falling off buildings, and other things that potentially endanger her life as the longer she spends recovering the more the Night Guild isn't making money off of her.
I think people will enjoy this book if they want a Medieval fantasy Young Adult drama. The characters are a bit stock but I was entertained by it enough to pick up the second one immediately after. Andy Peloquin knows how to tell a gripping story about a multidimensional main character and her development while making use of one of my favorite fantasy tropes. It's not quite THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA but it is very-very good.