Andy Peloquin is one of my favorite authors today. I have only read three of his novels but they have been consistently some of the best, easiest to read, and entertaining fantasy I have read in years. The story flows incredibly well from beginning to end with the main character developing from a scared and traumatized young girl to a hardened bitter cynic who wants nothing more to do with the Night Guild yet knows nothing else.
Readers should obviously start with the first book as a summary spoils the twist of the previous novel's conclusion. Needless to say, Illana has lost her entire life in an act of arson and it has driven her half-insane. Consumed with a need for revenge, she attempts to track down the people who did it as the Night Guild falls prey to a conspiracy against it. Illana attempts to turn the tables on her enemies but her anger, bitterness, and arrogance result in some of her solutions making the problem much-much worse.
I like the way Andy Peloquin handles the character of Illana as she's an incredibly nuanced character. The Night Guild has done a number on her but she's used to being able to manipulate it and its members pretty well. There's a great moment in the book when she deals with a genuinely honest man (who is not particularly nice) and it completely throws her. The fact she can't bribe, blackmail, intimidate, or entice him leaves her completely cold. The fact she can't appeal to his sense of justice is also great because she's never had to try and wouldn't even know where to begin.
The action in the book is extremely well done with Illana being closer to John McClain than more invincible heroes. She takes a rather severe beating with injuries that leave a permanent mark, starting with burns on her hand and face from the fire at the beginning. Illana suffers badly for her actions and yet she trudges on, which is something that makes the book feel stronger. I'm reminded a bit of Katniss Everdeen's literary depiction as what made those books memorable was the fact it authentically depicted the trauma she suffered.
The Duke is a fantastic villain of the story as he's wonderfully self-righteous and believable. He genuinely believes he's a good man and is uninterested in what Illana is selling. He also has a great love for his brother, the King, that makes him credible. However, he's also someone who shares his society's disdain for bastards and doesn't consider them a part of the family. His lies directly contribute to the suffering of virtually the entire city. I also enjoyed the Bloody Hands as they prove to be a brutish and detestable group of thugs. I'm not sure I really buy the Night Guild is any better than them but I understand why Illana believes it.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book. Illana is a fantastically written character and a well-done bi-heroine (though romance is nothing she's terribly interested in). I look forward to picking up the sequel series when it comes out but this trilogy stands on its own. It's a book series that could theoretically be classified as a Young Adult one (albeit a very grimdark one ala Joe Abercrombie's work for teenagers) but adults should enjoy it even more.