Thief of Dreams (Court of Dreams #1) by Bec McMaster

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Twenty brides. One prince. Who will survive when the competition turns deadly?

When Prince Keir of the Court of Dreams sends out a summons in search of a bride, the Wraith King sees a chance to steal the powerful Dragon’s Heart. He sends his best thief, Zemira Az Ghul, to penetrate the court as one of the potential brides.

All Zemira wants is freedom from the chains that bind her to the king, and if she finds the relic she’ll have it. But the Court of Dreams is more dangerous than she ever expected, and Zemira must soon choose between her freedom—and her heart.

Rating: B-

Thief of Dreams, book one in Bec McMasters Court of Dreams series originally appeared in the Of Thrones and Crowns anthology in 2019 and was republished separately earlier this year.  It’s novella length and sets up the storyline that will (I suspect) run throughout what I believe is going to be a trilogy, so while Thief of Dreams does contain a complete story, it also ends with something of a cliffhanger,  and serves as an introduction to the overarching plot.  The author sets up the main romantic pairing – and if the chemistry hinted at here is continued, then I can’t wait for the rest! – and while I was a bit disappointed things didn’t progress very far on that front, I was also pleased that the author wisely decided there wasn’t time for bedroom scenes or an HEA in the 126 pages that comprise this instalment.

As was the case with the author’s recent Promise of Darkness, I found the first person, present tense narration off-putting.   I understand why first person is necessary in a story like this – it seems to be the preferred style for YA and many contemporary romances – I just don’t care for it, and it took me a while to get used to it.  Actually, it took me longer than it should have done to read 126 pages, and that was partly because of my dislike of this narrative style (and partly because I was listening to an amazing audiobook and didn’t want to stop!)

Once I got back to Thief of Dreams, however, I found it bears all the hallmarks of a Bec McMaster read; a kick-ass heroine, a dangerous, sexy hero and extensive worldbuilding done in a way that flows naturally and never feels like an info-dump; there was (I think) one point at which I felt I was reading a list rather than information that unfolded naturally.  BUT – while the author generally disseminates the information subtly, there’s a LOT of it to absorb here concerning the various fae courts and magic systems, and it all feels a bit rushed and superficial.

Zemira Az Guhl wants nothing more than freedom from the chains that bind her to her father, the Wraith King Beyond the Shadowfangs.  For almost all her life, she has been the kingdom’s most successful thief, able to pluck the last coin from a miser’s purse while he’s watching it, forced to do her father’s bidding in hope of his eventually returning the half of her soul he stole from her at birth.  At last, the opportunity she has waited for is offered her – the king will grant her the rest of her soul if she will steal the Dragon’s Heart from the legendary Court of Dreams.  Zemira is aghast.  Nobody knows where the Court of Dreams resides; its prince tore it from the mortal world long ago and even if its location was known, it’s impossible to enter the court without Prince Keir or his guards knowing, even for her.  But the Prince has sent out a Summons – an invitation to every fae princess in the land – and this is Zemira’s way in.  She must take the place of one of the more obscure of the potential brides, avoid the Prince’s notice as much as possible, locate the heart and steal it.  It’s not exactly going to be a walk in the park.

Of course nothing goes to plan.  Zemira’s plan to avoid Keir’s notice backfires – she’s the one ‘princess’ not falling over herself to win him, so naturally, she’s the one who intrigues him the most.  The other princesses – a bunch of ‘mean girls’ if ever I saw one – start getting picked off, one-by-one by unknown creatures, and a final and hurtful betrayal puts Zemira’s quest at risk and turns her fate in a different direction.

I enjoyed the story, the murder-mystery aspect to the plot is resolved here and there is clearly more to come – but book two isn’t out until 2021, so I hope I’ll remember to look for it! There’s a definite spark of attraction between Zemira and Keir and their flirtations are swoony, but I felt there was something missing in the characterisation, and the first person PoV didn’t allow me to connect with Keir at all.

If I were grading Thief of Dreams purely on its own, I’d probably give it a C+/C.  The writing is solid and the ideas are good, but overall, it feels rushed, the hero is peripheral and the romance doesn’t really get off the ground.  As the introduction to a new series however, I’m upping that to a B- because there’s a lot of potential I’m hoping will play out as the series progresses.  To be honest though, I sort of wish I’d waited to read this until I could jump into book two straight afterwards.

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