J.M. Butler: Review of A Thief and a Gentlewoman (RFS Book Club Winner – March 2019)

For the month of March, 2019, the readers of Romantic Fantasy Shelf voted for two books: A Thief and a Gentlewoman by Clare Sage and Okami by Nicolette Andrews. And today, we’re going to be discuss A Thief and a Gentlewoman.

This story is the first book in the Counterfeit Contessa series. Book two will be coming out in June of this year if everything goes according to schedule, but let me give you a little spoiler and tell you that even if I had to wait two or more years to get the sequel, I would be more than willing to wait. A Thief and a Gentlewoman is a story very much its own while working beautifully within the genre conventions and immersing the reader into an incredible world.

Quin, short for Quinta, is a special sort of thief. She’s trained in many respects and most definitely a bit of a rogue with a skill for cards, seduction, flirtation, locks, and escape. But her life begins to change as she encounters a Pasha who is more than he appears and who is not content with her feigned appearances of demure femininity. This Pasha, Atesh, is far more than meets the eye, and though she has set him as her next mark, both are falling for one another, even though that will create even more consequences. Not only that, but Atesh is the cousin of the Sultana, an individual with whom Quin has some family history.

A Thief and a Gentlewoman is the first book in the Counterfeit Countessa Series.

Type of Story

A Thief and a Gentlewoman is an immersive romantic fantasy epic. Clare weaves together a complex and beautiful world rich with details that draw heavily on Turkish influences as well as some English with a strong infusion of magic and fantasy (my favorite distinct element being the sabre cats which are large enough to ride).

Arianople is a fascinating city, similar to Istanbul but without the dominant Christian and Muslim influences.

This is a slow burn romance with intrigue and doom looming over the couple as they are perpetually drawn together. This story also features mysteries and political intrigue in a way that is well balanced. While I did find myself accurately guessing some of the twists and turns, they were laid out in such a way that my enjoyment was not diminished. This is the sort of story where the journey and the unfolding and development of the characters is far more important.

This story is set within a distinct world from our own. Arianople is perhaps best described as Instanbul without the prominent Christian or Muslim influences. A distinct religion/spiritual tradition which serves the Hundred and draws on altered tarot cards takes their places.  

The Romance Between the Characters

As I have begun to realize is one of my favorite elements of romantic fantasy, this features a slow burn romance. Here the characters run into one another early on in the story, and matters build from there along with respect and affection amid vital questions.

Indeed there is a spark and an intimacy between these two, even from their first encounter. And despite all of the concerns that develop between the two, I absolutely wanted them to get together and yet found myself content with the more gradual connection, especially as Quin’s thoughts and emotions transform. Her attitude and growth throughout is the most complex and the most fascinating.

And while this section is intended to be about the romance of the two leads, I have to speak about another point of romance within this story that charmed and surprised me: the romance of the cards. It’s not often that an author weaves together a scene regarding games of chance and cards that makes you feel like the cards are seducing you. Don’t get me wrong. The romance between Atesh and Quin is incredible as well, but I really wasn’t prepared for how seductive the cards were going to be.

The cards play a significant role through, providing culture, context, and clues for Quin’s quest as well as serving as a source of magical influence.

The Characters and Their Relationships Beyond the Romantic

The scope of the characters’ worlds go far beyond their relationships with one another. Both not only have friends but also family who exist in different circles with distinct motivations and desires. While both are well developed, I feel that Quin’s POV is the best utilized to expand both the world and ground her motivations and observations. She notices many things, drawing conclusions that reveal the world and yet are natural to her. In particular, I’d note that the specific body language references and notations are excellent, not only for developing the characters but creating clear images.

Robin Hood faced many challenges but none quite like Quin’s.

Additionally the plight of many within Quin’s life make her a sympathetic character. Like the famed Robin Hood, her thieving is not to enrich herself. But she has to navigate a far more complex web than the cunning archer ever did since she is trying to care for a diseased and dying family member and protect old friends from a dangerous life while also remaining presentable and intriguing to the nobility. Numerous interests and concerns pull on Quin, and almost everyone in her life represents someone who has a need which she can in some way fulfill.

Of all the non-romantic relationships within the story, I most enjoyed the ones between Quin and her family. It is especially refreshing to see it developed between female members of the family and addressing certain conclusions that flow from the events of the family’s history.

Fascinating Influences Within the Story

The very first line of the story is a delightful reference to Pride and Prejudice. Other literary references and influences apparent within the story are 1001 Arabian Nights and Robin Hood. Clare’s overall style and tone is coy and artful throughout. The story is quite luxurious and calm in its pacing, allowing you time to be fully immersed in the world and live with the characters rather than a rapid page turner that skims the surface.

Though A Thief and a Gentlewoman is distinctly its own, the playful nods and allusions to Pride and Prejudice are a delight.

The very first line of the story is a delightful reference to Pride and Prejudice. Other literary references and influences apparent within the story are 1001 Arabian Nights and Robin Hood. Clare’s overall style and tone is coy and artful throughout. The story is quite luxurious and calm in its pacing, allowing you time to be fully immersed in the world and live with the characters rather than a rapid page turner that skims the surface.

The depth of the characters and their interactions reminds me most of Jane Austen with the wit of Pride and Prejudice and the gradual intertangling of the two loves. I didn’t feel as much concern about the ultimate conclusion of Atesh and Quin as Darcy and Elizabeth, but I enjoyed it immensely and felt very much that they were suited for one another, even if they had not yet reached that same conclusion. In this case, it was very much about how will they come together and how will they be changed in this journey rather than relying only on the tension of will they, won’t they.

For those who love Robin Hood stories but want a more feminine focus with political intrigue or seekers of a more modern Austen voice in fantasy setting, I certainly recommend A Thief and a Gentlewoman. It will also appeal to those who want a non-European focused romantic fantasy or simply an excursion into an immersive fantasy world with a rich romance and complex characters and a relaxing pace.

Have you read this one? What did you think? Share in the comments!

About the Author

J.M. Butler is an adventurer, author, and attorney who never outgrew her love for telling stories or playing in imaginary worlds. She is the author of The Tue-Rah Chronicles, which includes Identity Revealed, Enemy Known, and Princess Reviled. Independent novellas set in the same world include Locked, Alone, and Cursed. She has also written a number of other stories including Mermaid Bride, Through the Paintings Dimly, and more. She writes primarily speculative fiction with a focus on multicultural high fantasy and suspenseful adventures with intriguing romances. And on top of that, she lives with her husband and law partner, James Fry, in rural Indiana where they enjoy creating fun memories, challenging each other, and playing with their three cats.

Reach her at:

Check out her romantic epic fantasy Tue-Rah Chronicles:

Though her brutal husband is imprisoned, Amelia must navigate the hostile political climate or else face banishment or execution. 

Despite saving the nation, Amelia remains incapable of satisfying the demands of the Libyshan leadership. Amelia fights to stand firm in her calling and her convictions while struggling to find a solution that leaves Libysha whole, restores the interdimensional portals, and removes Naatos and his shapeshifting brothers to a place where they can do no harm. The Machat warn that these shapeshifters can only be held for a brief period, but an enraged populace and spiteful elder commander desire vengeance and block Amelia at every turn. Her bond to Naatos and his family makes her a traitor unless she does precisely as they say.

Time counts down, and soon Naatos and his brothers will be free to wreak bloody vengeance on Libysha before resuming their plans of universal dominance. Amelia must embrace being a traitor in the eyes of her own people to save them while also untangle her feelings for the man who has claimed her as his wife.


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