[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
I read the first book not long ago, and a lot of what I posted in my review at the time is valid again in here. The heist(s), with several levels of deception, double-crossing the opponent, thwarted plans, having to do with a situation turned for the worst... And with twists that aren't always planned by all members of the team, ending in somewhat hilarious moments that nicely counterbalance the overall "they're a bit too ready for absolutely everything" feeling one may get. Because something's bound to give, to turn sour in a heist, otherwise there wouldn't be as much interest in reading such adventures—at least not for me.
The characters are mostly the same, with some changes reflecting darker turns of events from the first book. Kail is still his old I-give-a-name-to-everything lockpick and pickpocket, and his skill in wielding "mom jokes" remains the same (also he's contaminated Icy); however, his brush with mind-bending magic left him a bit more somber, but more decided than ever to fight this. Desidora has returned to her duties, yet is now questioning her role within the team, as she feels she is less useful. (I quite liked the conversations between these two, as their predicaments were somewhat related.) Ululenia and Dairy... well, let's just say things didn't exactly go as planned (not to mention that the unicorn had to make a choice whose consequences wouldn't be so light). Loch is trying to work on the side of a law that doesn't exactly make things easy for her in that regard. Hessler has broadened his magic, with somewhat dangerous results that however leave room to humorous dialogues: a welcome thing, considering that the tone of the novel is a bit darker and that this time, wounds aren't only superficial.
We are given a bit more of a view of other parts of the world here: the Empire, the dwarves, the elves, as well as the Ancients themselves. A welcome addition, too. At first sight, it doesn't stray too far from clichés (Elves had tree-ships and prefer to live far from humans, dwarves are often miners...); however, read just a little longer and the differences become obvious. I especially liked how the dwarves were so polite and orderly, while the elf dignitary was at the same time badass and insufferable (in a funny way). While the rules of magic in this world remain fuzzy, the relationship between magic and elves (through the crustals embedded in the latter) was interesting nonetheless.
This novel may have been slightly less humorous than the first one, because its stakes were higher from the beginning—not just a heist to steal a book and earn tons of money, but preventing a war, and trying not to become the sacrificial lamb in the middle of all this. Oddly or not, I liked it even better for this reason, and for another one: this time, knowing the characters, I could also better anticipate on what their moves might or might not be, and this made it more "logical", so to speak, when something happened that I would've otherwise deemed a deus ex machina. Predictable? In a way. Yet the kind of predictable I like, that I *want* to see happen, and then, when it happens, I strike the air with my fist and I'm all "Yesss!"
4.5 stars. I'll keep recommending this series, and hope book 3 is on the same level.