The City of Saints and Thieves is a thrilling YA murder-mystery that takes place in bustling Sangui City. Tina and her mother, Anju, are Congolese refugees who flee to Kenya as different warring factions start terrorizing the region. Her mother takes up employment as a maid on the estate of Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most prominent business leaders. That is until she’s murdered under mysterious circumstances.
The story starts five years later. Tina’s now a thief among Goonda ranks, a gang that operates in the city’s underbelly. She’s hell-bent on revenge against Greyhill believing him responsible for her mother’s death. During an operation for the dirt to ruin him, Tina’s caught red-handed and learns that not all is as it appears. The story is searching for the truth behind her mother, her own origins, and the machinations of greater forces that frame it all.
I have to admit that this book is quite different from YA books I’ve read in the past. Near the end, I kept being shocked back to the realization that all the murder, human rights abuses, and other really risqué themes were being discussed in a YA novel. The central conflict and drama from the story draw from real-life horrors and international abuses. Things like violence against women, the ways greed and corporate interest work in tandem to tear nations apart, and how young men enter into the culture of violence and toxic masculinity due to the circumstances surrounding the violence they’re raised in caught me off guard. I would expect topics like these in hard-hitting documentaries, traumatic memoirs or blockbuster dramas. I’m not saying that I didn’t think YA could cover these topics. This is just the first time I’ve encountered them in this genre.
With all that being said, I think this book does an excellent job of tackling them. The author has clearly shown her knowledge and research in these areas. According to Natalie C. Anderson’s bio, she’s worked extensively with the United Nations and non-government organizations with refugee resettlement efforts. That work definitely comes through here and she has given the reader an entertaining story to boot. I swear I breezed through the last 200 pages of this thing. I couldn’t put it down because the story just became a series of stunning realizations, heart-stopping suspense, and brilliant action sequences.
The characters were…decent. They had very likable personalities and their motivations, particularly Tina’s, were very clear throughout the narrative. There were even some great character interactions between various members of the cast.
It’s just that…I didn’t quite connect with them. When I pick up a book, I really want to feel for a character and their struggle. Though this book had its moments, sometimes the fast pace-ness of the plot and the leaps in narrative got in the way of that especially as I saw cliche character moments manifesting themselves in the little details (tough as nails narrator who learns how to trust, a supportive gay friend where no other LGBTQ person can be seen, a hate/distrust relationship to love…) Each one wouldn’t both me on their own and it’s not too distracting but at moments I caught myself taking notice of them.
There’s also a strange dynamic between two major people in the cast that I wasn’t quite on board with. Slight spoiler warning, it seems like a romance was more or less shoehorned in the last few chapters that didn’t make logical sense to me. It doesn’t majorly impact the plot but I was more or less bewildered when it did come up.
Otherwise, this is a really good action-packed story. If you want to read a unique YA story with lots of intrigue, I say pick this one up!