As usual, especially with books from NetGalley (thanks for the eARC in exchange for an honest review, btw!), I first fell in love with the cover of The Memory Thief. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the characters, plot, setting, writing, pretty much everything else about the book.
In the city of Craewick, memories reign. The power-obsessed ruler of the city, Madame, has cultivated a society in which memories are currency, citizens are divided by ability, and Gifted individuals can take memories from others through touch as they please.
Seventeen-year-old Etta Lark is desperate to live outside of the corrupt culture, but grapples with the guilt of an accident that has left her mother bedridden in the city’s asylum. When Madame threatens to put her mother up for auction, a Craewick practice in which a “criminal’s” memories are sold to the highest bidder before being killed, Etta will do whatever it takes to save her. Even if it means rejoining the Shadows, the rebel group she swore off in the wake of the accident years earlier.
To prove her allegiance to the Shadows and rescue her mother, Etta must steal a memorized map of the Maze, a formidable prison created by the bloodthirsty ruler of a neighboring Realm. So she sets out on a journey in which she faces startling attacks, unexpected romance, and, above all, her own past in order to set things right in her world.
The Memory Thief is a book filled to the brim with adventure, grief, revolution, romance, love, family, and hope. The way the main characters, plot, and politics all relate to one another makes for an amazing debut novel that leaves me wanting more of the world and the author’s writing.
Etta is a great protagonist. She struggles so much with coming to terms with her past and learning to find hope and self-love. She isn’t a mopey character by any means, but the pain she feels over her past can be felt so clearly while reading this book. Her past actions have defined who she is but the plot throughout the book helps shape her into someone who is strong, brave, honest, and hopeful. I absolutely loved the character development Etta went through as a result of her own actions and the influence of those around her, which brings me to Reid.
Reid, what can I say about him other than I love him? Seriously, Reid is kind, courageous, smart, and dependable, all necessary traits for his and Etta’s mission. He was a well-rounded character with his own distinct conflicts who also helps support Etta and help her realize her own possibilities. The way these two build each other up is so endearing, I just love them. (Have I said that enough times yet?)
This book isn’t just about the growing relationship between Reid and Etta! There’s plenty of action, twists and surprises, and political scheming involved. I really can’t say much about some of my favorite scenes or secondary characters without spoiling some of these surprises for you, but trust me when I say this plot is well-developed and well-written.
On top of a great cast of characters and great plot, we also get some really cool Gifts. In this book, as the title suggests, memories are very important. They’re stolen, gifted, and sold to the highest bidder. Sometimes they’re even used as a weapon, planted in the minds of the enemy to drive them crazy, make them forget who they are, or make them yours to command. I occasionally got some Evermore vibes because of this ability to use something so personal and vital to someone as a means of power and control. Two very different items and contexts, but still a connection my mind made while reading.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of memories, the way they made Etta’s past feel both comforting and depressing, how they could be used as a weapon, and how they led to power and played into politics and the structure of society.
The only things I wish had been explored more were descriptions of the characters and a better idea of where each realm was physically located in relation to one another. What else was there outside of these realms? What was life like before Madame came into power? How much did the differing social levels of the citizens of Craewick influence that realm? I feel like some of the more boring but important aspects of worldbuilding were skimmed over, still making the story interesting but leaving me with some general questions and gaps. I think I would have felt the importance of the revolution more if I knew just how much would change if it was successful.
Despite this worldbuilding drawback, I really loved The Memory Thief by Lauren Mansy. I eagerly await future book by her and am really impressed with her debut novel. The family dynamics were very moving, as were the explorations of grief and grappling with the past. The political aspects were interesting and the romance was adorable. I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for a new author to keep your eye on!