Review: The Library Thief by Kuchenga Shenjé

Posted May 7, 2024 by Richetta in Adult Fiction, Blog Tours, Book Reviews / 0 Comments

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Review: The Library Thief by Kuchenga Shenjé

I received this book for free from Hear Our Voices Book Tours & the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

Review: The Library Thief by Kuchenga ShenjéThe Library Thief by Kuchenga Shenje
Published by Harper Collins on May 7, 2024
Genres: Fiction / Historical / General
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Hear Our Voices Book Tours & the publisher
Buy on Bookshop

A strikingly original and absorbing mystery about a white-passing bookbinder in Victorian England and the secrets lurking on the estate where we she works, for fans of Fingersmith and The Confessions of Frannie Langton

The library is under lock and key. But its secrets can't be contained.

1896. After he brought her home from Jamaica as a baby, Florence's father had her hair hot-combed to make her look like the other girls. But as a young woman, Florence is not so easy to tame—and when she brings scandal to his door, the bookbinder throws her onto the streets of Manchester.

Intercepting her father's latest commission, Florence talks her way into the remote, forbidding Rose Hall to restore its collection of rare books. Lord Francis Belfield's library is old and full of secrets—but none so intriguing as the whispers about his late wife.

Then one night, the library is broken into. Strangely, all the priceless tomes remain untouched. Florence is puzzled, until she discovers a half-burned book in the fireplace. She realizes with horror that someone has found and set fire to the secret diary of Lord Belfield's wife–which may hold the clue to her fate…

Evocative, arresting and tightly plotted, The Library Thief is at once a propulsive Gothic mystery and a striking exploration of race, gender and self-discovery in Victorian England.

Ooowee! I’m not sure I have read a historical fiction book packed with as much drama and plot twists as this one. Welcome to my stop on The Library Thief by Kuchenga Shenjé book tour hosted by Hear Our Voices Book Tours.

Literary Detective

If you are a fan of Jane Eyre, this gothic mystery definitely has some of those vibes in it. There are actually a lot of literary references interwoven into the book which is appropriate because the main character Florence is a book binder who loves to read. 

Florence also sees herself as a part-time detective. When she arrives at Rose Hall under the guise of being sent by her father for the job. She discovers that the recently deceased Lady Belfield may have been murdered. In between restoring books, she searches for clues to what happened to Lady Belfield and who might be a suspect in her alleged murder.

Mysterious Characters

This mystery novel has lots of layers connected to race, gender and identity. There are characters who are not as they seem and those who are straightforward about who they are despite everything. I know I thought that I guessed a few of the mysteries throughout the plot, only to be blindsided by new ones. For those who appreciate trigger warnings, there is an on-page sexual assault and mention of off-page sexual assault. 

The main reason that Florence ends up employed as a book binder in a recently widowed Lord’s home is because she gets kicked out by her father. She was caught with a boy. I didn’t quite understand the reason behind Florence’s promiscuity or sexual exploration at such a young age. It felt a little unnecessary to her character other than the fact she doesn’t judge others for their sexual choices. But it seemed the reason given for that was that she didn’t have a mother in her life to show her right or wrong. It was just something that didn’t seem fully developed to me, but maybe my perspective is narrow. 

Bunch of Jerks Sidenote

Since I mentioned her father kicking her out…The majority of the men in this book were jerks in my opinion. Lord Belfield is an oblivious jerk who I would never depend on to keep me safe. His brother is a psycho male chauvinist jerk who you are definitely not going to be safe around. Finally, her Dad is a pitiful, bitter jerk who needs a bath. Can you tell I have strong feelings on the matter?

Colonial Repercussions

Set in Victorian England, The Library Thief does not ignore the colonial repercussions of Great Britain’s colonization of countries like Jamaica and India on its characters. It holds at its core the context of the interactions, especially those connected to race, that would have been common in different parts of Britain because of the travel byways opened up due to colonial imperialism. 


The cover absolutely reminded me of The Personal Librarian. In fact, there are a few themes that are similar between the two books. This is a mid to fast paced mystery that has numerous plot twists. Drama and revelations are packed into the pages. If you like a good mystery, a hefty dose of drama and want to see a more realistic and diverse portrayal of Victorian England then definitely check this one out.

About the Author

Kuchenga Shenjé is a writer, journalist and speaker with work on many media platforms including Stylist, British Vogue and Netflix. She has contributed short stories and essays to several anthologies, most notably It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (And OtherLies), Who’s Loving You and Loud Black Girls. Owing to a lifelong obsession with books and the written word, Kuchenga studied Creative Writing at The Open University. Her work is focused on the perils of loving, being loved and women living out loud throughout the ages. Her first novel The Library Thief is the ultimate marriage of her passions for history, mystery and rebels. She currently resides in Manchester where she is determined to continue living a life worth writing about. (Taken from her website.)

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