Oh my word. I was provided with City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson through Netgalley – I honestly didn’t really know what it was about when I first started reading. I’d just seen it recommended on Twitter and thought I’d give it a go. THANK YOU TWITTER! (There are trigger warnings for murder, sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, kidnapping, and violence.)
In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.
With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.
I’ve not read that many thrillers, especially recently. I often find them VERY white/cis/straight/allo, and the genre has a bad penchant for misogyny. However, once again, the book world has proved that if a genre is diversified, I will read it! City of Saints & Thieves is set in the fictional Kenyan city of Sangui – the majority of the characters are black, a few are biracial, the secondary character Boyboy is gay, and Tina our main character is homeless and a refugee from the Congo. (The author is not own voices for any of these things, however she worked closely with refugees in the Congo in her time at the UN. I thought that the research she did was pretty good, though of course I will link own voices reviews if they say otherwise.)
Although City of Saints & Thieves is technically a YA novel, this is more because Tina is a teenager at the time of the events. I didn’t think that it really read like a YA – it was very gritty and did not shy away from realities of being a refugee. I felt that it read quite like an adult thriller, which was great. It was tightly plotted enough and had enough twists and turns to keep me interested in the plot, but wasn’t so fast paced that I couldn’t get to know the characters, particularly Tina. Another problem I tend to have with thrillers is that the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but that definitely wasn’t a problem here. I cared quite a lot about Tina and her search for truth, particularly about her mother, who isn’t the most straightforward person to understand. Indeed, most of the adult characters are devilishly tricky to understand, and that I really appreciated.
My one negative comment is that I felt that the romance in the novel was a little bit unnecessary, but it didn’t bother me all that much. It felt a bit tacked on – I think there’s this idea that all YA has to be about romance of some description, and that’s why it was included. However, overall I thought City of Saints & Thieves was a fantastic diverse thriller – I was the edge of my seat the entire time! Honestly, I can’t believe that this is Anderson’s debut novel. I certainly hope that she will be writing more in the future.