Book Review: Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li (Coronet)

I’m back here with anohter book review of a book I meant to finish in June. I started it in June if that counts for anything.

A month or so ago, I ordered the April Illumicrate “Nothing But Thieves” box and got the most beautiful edition of Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li, published by Coronet. Honestly, underneath the dust jacket is the most beautiful design, and there’s character art on the reverse of the jacket. The book gets brownie points for that.

Portrait of a Thief is about five Chinese American students who are hired by a Chinese company to pull off series of heists, stealing back art from museums that had gotten these treasures through colonialism and imperialism. All five character have the same and different reasons for participating in the heist, but they come together as a team, no less.

This debut novel was done really well. I had taken a peek at other reviews from Chinese American readers, who attested that Grace D. Li captured the confusing feeling of being pulled between two nations, the family pressures within the culture, and the feeling of loss that came with the diaspora.

Though this is a heist novel, the narrative was much more about the individual characters and how they found their sense of identity and belonging. You’d expect heist stories to be quick, but because of the focus on characters, the pacing was pretty slow.

I do have to agree with other reviewers that some of the heists were pulled off too easily, and a lot of the plot was unrealistic. However, due to the focus on identity, I didn’t have a problem with the action of the story being easy or a few plot points to be a bit unbelievable. I was more invested in seeing these characters figure out what they wanted. That being said, I would love to see future stories from Grace D. Li perhaps with a faster pace and a few more obstacles thrown in.

Now of course there are some trigger warnings–small mentions of racism, mentions of the COVID pandemic, grief and loss of a parent.

Overall, I really did enjoy this read–and looking at the gorgeous book cover. It’s a four-star book from me! Also, I hear this story is being adapted for Netflix.

By myadventure2017

Writer, Reader, Bookstagrammer, Booktoker, Blogger

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