ARC Review: Portrait Of A Thief || heists, art, history and identity all in one

History is told by conquerors. And amazing stories, as it turns out, are told by Miss Grace Li.

Portrait of a Thief

Title: Portrait Of A Thief
Author: Grace D. Li
Genre: Adult Mystery, Contemporary
Publisher: Tiny Reparations Books
Publishing Date: 5th April, 2022

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.
Will Chen plans to steal them back.
A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son that has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a shadowy Chinese corporation reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.
His crew is every heist archetype one can imagine—or at least, the closest he can get. A conman: Irene Chen, Will’s sister and a public policy major at Duke, who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering student who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.
Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted attempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for sending me in e-ARC of this book in exchange of an honest review. This does not affect my opinion in any way.

Buddy read with Prutha @Moonchild Lexicons!

I hate to tell you this, but if you go into this book looking for action-packed heists, high speed thrilling chases, so-close-to-getting-caught getaways and a million other things you associate with the word “heist”, you are going to be disappointed.

And to be honest, I was slightly disappointed by the slowness of it all in the very beginning. But with the deliberation with which all of it was written, I soon came to realize that maybe that was the whole point. Maybe the author was trying to prove that all heist stories need not be fist fighting, epic showdowns and dramatic getaways. They can be on the emotional side of things.

For the aforementioned reason, it would be a near crime to define this book as a heist story. Sure, our crew had to battle against gripping stakes and go on a few (read: 5) heists, but as a whole, the story was about SO much more. Our entire cast of main characters were Chinese-Americans college students, trying to cope with questions surrounding their identities, while doing their best to not disappoint their families. They were trying to make a future for themselves while trying not to dishonour their past.

If I had to put it in numbers, I’d say the book was 95% thoughts and 5% action. The internal wrestling with their identities definitely took up all the spotlight, while the external conflict (the heist plot) was comfortable backstage. It was one of those books that gives you insight into what a character is thinking and feeling, rather than doing.

Speaking of characters, I did feel like a couple of the main characters were written in a slightly 2-dimensional sort of way (and I found Irene annoying), but that didn’t stop me for rooting for them throughout the story. Daniel was by far my favourite character, the way he and his father had this thing going on seemed so relatable to me and I could really connect to him.

All that being said, Portrait Of A Thief was an overall contemplative book. I’d recommend it to fans of Jeffery Archer’s Nothing Ventured (with the action amped down a little bit) and anyone in general looking for a slow paced but thought-provoking read. Go add this to your tbr, because it comes out in no more than 2 months from now!

Which is your favourite slow paced read? Have you read Portrait Of A Thief? Is it on your TBR? Chat with me in the comments!

~ Rachel

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15 thoughts on “ARC Review: Portrait Of A Thief || heists, art, history and identity all in one

    1. yeah when I said I didn’t like a couple of the main characters, I meant the Chens because even Will just seemed… off to me, if you know what I mean. thank you for reading the review!!

      Like

  1. Yessss! This review is amazing. I actually wanted to read this book more for the internal conflict and identity issues especially for Asian characters. The heist stuff is extra awesomeness but I’m so glad to hear this seems to be more aligned with what I’m looking for. I can’t wait!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I LOVE YOUR REVIEW WRITING SKILLS AND SHALL FOREVER BE AWED BY THEM! ALSO I LOVE YOUR INTRO LINE TOO MUCH *ahem* talking about the book, I have been reading so many mixed reviews lately? BUT THE SYNOPSIS SOUNDS AMAZING AND ALSO YOUR REVIEW HAS CONVINCED ME so I cannot wait to get my hands on it (while also being like 735272929% terrified of what I shall think)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. THANK YOU, MY (NON EXISTENT) REVIEW WRITING SKILLS ARE HONOURED.
      yep loads of mixed reactions have been doing rounds in the internet but i think most of those negative reviews were because of different expectations. so keep in mind about the heist not being the main plot and you’re all good. NOW GO ADD IT TO YOUR TBR

      Liked by 1 person

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