Dance of Thieves is a good romance, but not an easy spin-off for newcomers


Mary E. Pearson’s Dance of Thieves returns to the universe of her Remnant Chronicles for a great love story that can occasionally feel daunting for new readers.

There’s something to be said for truth in advertising. Or doing your research. Perhaps if you’re familiar with author Mary E. Pearson’s Remnant Chronicles, you won’t be surprised to find that her latest novel, the fantasy romance Dance of Thieves, skews much more heavily toward the romance than the fantasy. But if this is your first entry into Pearson’s world (cough cough yours truly cough), that fact might take you a bit by surprise.

Dance of Thieves is one of those interesting sorts of novels that’s set in a pre-existing universe but, ostensibly, has little to do with it. This isn’t entirely true — the book is full of the vague references and overlong pauses which indicate that something’s happening that only long time readers will understand. On the plus side, this will likely make you want to check out Pearson’s earlier novels, simply so you can understand what all this business with the frequently mentioned but rarely named or seen queen is about. (Surprise, it’s the lead character from her other series.) But you might find yourself struggling a bit to figure out what’s going on in a few places, particularly at the start.

The novel is, in the most general sense, a standalone story, with a strong core group of characters and a clear narrative throughline. However, it leans quite hard, quite quickly into its pseudo-enemies to lovers plotline, throwing our two lead characters together before we’ve really gotten to know either of them or how they fit in the larger universe of the story. (Not kidding: They’re literally chained to one another within the novel’s first 50 pages.). But despite this somewhat rocky beginning — I was convinced I wasn’t going to like this book at the start — everything manages to coalesce into something that really works by the novel’s end. By Dance of Thieves’ final pages, even I was cheering for the really-too-convenient plot twist that kept our heroes together.

Despite its rocky start and the fact that the novel isn’t immediately welcoming to those who are unfamiliar with this universe, there’s a lot to like here.

This is, at its heart, a love story

The story of Dance of Thieves is fairly straightforward. A group of elite warrior women must head head to another kingdom ruled by a powerful outlaw family to bring back some wanted criminals who did bad things in their land. If you read those earlier books, you’re much more up to speed on the specifics of who those people are and what they did, but you get the gist of it. However,  bulk of this story has almost nothing to do with this quest. (Sure, the main plot line is built around its existence, but the main characters spend only the tiniest percentage of their time doing anything about it.)

Therefore, if you came to Dance with Thieves looking for a sprawling fantasy epic, you’re going to be disappointed. There are elements of this here. The world building is incredibly interesting, but seems to rely on readers possessing some level of knowledge from the earlier stories. The Ballenger clan of outlaws gets some nuggets of history tossed in here and there, but not nearly as much as I wanted.

Dance of Thieves plays to its strengths by focusing overwhelmingly on the will-they/won’t-they romance between leads Jase and Kazi. He’s the powerful new leader of a renegade outlaw clan; she’s a legendary thief. They meet, they get kidnapped, sparks fly. Most of the novel centers around their — admittedly, very interesting — love story, as they attempt to sort out whether they can ever be together in spite of their differing pasts, competing interests, and constant lies. If you love the thing where two very different people initially clash but end up falling for one another regardless, you’ll be extremely into this. It’s very well done, as such things go. Just maybe not what you initially expect.

The main characters are great

Part of what makes Dance of Thieves work is that leads Kasi and Jase aren’t just appealing together, they’re appealing, period. Both characters are complex and layered, with conflicted loyalties and selfish interests. Kazi’s dark past and Jase’s obsession with his family history provide realistic motivations for both of them, and it’s easy to see why they end up falling for one another. Their interactions – even when though they often fight and betray one another more than once – feel real and earned. It’s hard not to root for them both to get what they want, even though those things are often at cross purposes. As lead characters go, they’re fantastic.

The novel is so focused on Kazi and Jase, however, that it relegates most of its supporting cast to brief mentions and broad stereotypes. Kazi’s fellow Rahtan warriors and Jase’s sisters would have been particularly interesting to spend more time with. (Maybe we can see more of them in the sequel?)

The setting is so detailed

One advantage that readers of Pearson’s Remnant Chronicles novels have here is that they’re already largely familiar with the world in which this story is set, including physical locations, people and the stories behind everything else. For those that haven’t read the earlier novels, however, the world of Dance with Thieves still feels rich and complicated, dense with culture and history.

This is actually one of the few things that the novel manages to balance perfectly between old readers and new. If you’ve read the Remnant Chronicles, all these details probably feel like a gift, familiar touchstones that ground you in a world you already loved. If you’re not, the setting feels fascinatingly detailed, giving us a solid, thorough look at the world these characters inhabit. Plus, it generally makes you want to know more about the world all of this came from, as those references to other rulers, kingdoms and historical events feel like tantalizing breadcrumbs to follow.

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Dance of Thieves will resonate more with readers who have experienced Pearson’s universe for themselves already. Newcomers may feel a bit lost, and should probably prepare themselves to care more about the story’s central relationship than its larger twists and themes. But, overall, it’s an entertaining journey, and one I’m not sorry to have taken.

Dance of Thieves is available wherever books are sold on August 7.