With “City of Saints & Thieves,” author Natalie C. Anderson managed to write a story that had me so enthralled, so committed to the main character, so intrigued by the plot and the setting, that I stayed up much later than I should have two nights in a row to complete the novel, enjoying every minute.
The story is compelling, and the setting is fascinating. The story takes place in several parts of Africa, mainly Kenya. Tina, the sixteen-year-old main character, is an orphan after her mother is killed while working for an extremely wealthy businessman, Roland Greyhill. She thinks he killed her mother because she had seen them argue the night before the murder, and she had heard him threaten her mother. Her mother was shot in his office, and the local police did not bother to really investigate the crime.
Making matters rather awkward, her mother was a maid in the household and also had an affair with Greyhill, resulting in her giving birth to his child. That child, Tina’s half-sister Kiki, is the only person in the world whom Tina cares about. Since her mother’s murder, Tina has joined a local gang and sleeps on a roof. Kiki attends a school run by a church, and she enjoys the benefits of a full scholarship.
After five years of preparation and planning by learning to steal and fight in the gang, Tina is ready to get her revenge on her mother’s murderer. But things don’t go quite as planned. Her childhood friend, Michael Greyhill (Kiki’s half-brother) interrupts Tina’s heist (of computer information from a very secure computer in Greyhill’s office), and insists that his father didn’t kill Tina’s mother.
Anderson creates wonderful characters in this story. While Michael is not as complete a character as some of the others, almost all of them have quirks that make them unique. Tina is small, but very intelligent and very street-smart after years training and learning with the gang. Her best friend, BoyBoy, is a computer whiz and very gay. He is not a stereotype, though, and he is brave and loyal to Tina.
The plot twists and turns, with Tina actually going back to Congo to see where she grew up. She also sees and experiences the very real danger there and learns more of why her mother left. The horror of what is happening in Africa is a huge part of the story, and many of the terrible things that are done to women by the militia, the rebels, the gangs, and others are laid out clearly without going into graphic detail.
Along the way, Tina learns who her father is, and she learns why her mother disappeared. Most importantly, Tina learns who she really is. She’s determined, moral, intelligent, loyal, and loving. With the exception of one character, the people in the story seem very real — most are not completely bad or completely good — they are human, with all the frailties and foibles that go along with the human state.
This book is highly recommended for young adult readers. It has some very mature themes, mostly revolving around the kidnapped women, that might be too much for readers younger than 12. Older readers, including adults, will find this a fabulous read.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Putnam, the publisher, for review purposes.