#1 of the Death Sworn duology
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I will always compare
Mistwood was one of those middle of the road books for me that didn't quite cut it in a lot of ways, but still managed to linger in my mind years later.
So, I was curious to see what Leah Cypess would do next, and when I discovered that what she was doing next involved assassins and magic, well, I was pretty much convinced I needed to read this.
Fair or not, I couldn't help but compare Death Sworn to Mistwood, but lucky for Death Sworn, the comparisons were definitely weighted in its favor. Mistwood was very much a debut book with its exciting premise but shaky execution. Death Sworn feels a lot more polished, with the richness and depth I sensed Leah Cypess could deliver, but didn't quite manage in Mistwood.
I don't know if we could be friends, but I'm sending the invite
Like Mistwood, Death Sworn features a main character who is hard to like. Ileni is cold, distant, and keeps herself to herself. Luckily, this is a first person book, so I got to spend a ton of time in Ileni's head getting to know all her thoughts and feelings.
Ileni was handed a bag of total suckage she right before the book started. Her magic, the thing she had defined herself by her entire life, was fading and, oh yeah, she was going to be exiled as a result. Friends, family, teachers, boyfriend, they were all, "Here's your bag. See ya." Nice, right?
Ileni is justifiably ticked off, confused, frustrated, and despairing. But she does it with steel and grit and a pissed off determination. I liked that she chose to embrace a simmering anger (though her feelings of loss were also so heart-rendering), because I was fuming on her behalf. Some characters take a little while for me to warm up to, but not Ileni. I was ready to fiercely back her up from page one.
Thankfully, instead of moping she channels all those feelings into a devil-may-care approach to life and volunteers to train a bunch of assassins, because what does it matter if they kill her?
The assassins Ileni meets aren't nice fluffy assassins. They're not even allies. Ileni's teaching them is part of some tensely grudging pact made between the two groups and no amount of gritting teeth and playing nice hides the fact that they don't like or trust one another.
I loved that Leah Cypess took this approach. Sure, I'm a reader who likes the whole "let's get along" rag-tag friendship thing, but that's also pretty been-there-done-that. The tension, distrust, and prejudice Leah Cypess had her characters maintain throughout the whole book was refreshing and realistic. I totally bought into these characters because their actions and thoughts made sense, which in turn added depth and realism to the world she created.
Plus, those were some SCARY assassins! I know I was looking at them through Ileni's definitely not trusting eyes, but, yikes. It was fascinating reading about them and their skills are believably assassin-grade, but I can't say I like or trust them.
Readers who have trouble getting cozy with assassins because they kill people might appreciate Death Sworn. There's no tip-toeing around what they are, that they kill on command, and that their way of thinking is not comprehensible to someone who is not an assassin. To Ileni (and me) they seemed like the kind of people where you'd tap your head and mouth "They're not quite right" (except of course you wouldn't actually do that because they'd freaking kill you).
Of course there's romance!
Think of it more like the season six Buffy/Spike romance where she's with him for all the wrong reasons. She's broken and hurting and he's serving a purpose, but somewhere along the way numbing escape leads to healing.
It's not the rainbows and That Kiss kind of romance. In a lot of ways, it's not satisfying. It's messy and a little uncomfortable, and I'm still not convinced I can trust him.
There's a lot of back and forth and uncertainty in their relationship, but that makes sense. When are emotions ever logical and consistent? Especially when they're unexpected emotions that go against everything you've ever been taught in life. It might have been less confusing and unsettling had they just went with their feelings and declared their love cultural teachings be damned, but that's what we call insta-love.
So, the romantic in me is still holding out hope, but I'm glad they haven't eloped just yet. Both of these characters are still developing and this is only the beginning of their story. Their relationship so far was less a romance and more an important part of their growth as individuals—a growth that is not yet complete, and in that regard it was written very well.
Mystery! Politics! Intrigue!
I'm a character girl, so watching all the character nuances unfold and shift probably would have been enough to sustain my interest. But, there's also the mystery, which was more than enough to hook me.
Ileni's driving force and the only thing she really cares to live for is solving the mystery of who killed the previous two teachers...and who therefore might be trying to kill her (and as much as Ileni doesn't really care about living, she also doesn't actually want to die).
What at first seems like a simple murder unravels into something MUCH more. I can't give details, but the reveals totally satisfied my political intrigue loving heart. Each layer Ileni uncovers leads to greater peril, ups the ante, and exposes things about her world. I cannot wait until the next book comes out to see how this is all going to unfold.
Also about that world—it's beautifully written. Ileni starts her story entering the dark, claustrophobic, labyrinthine caves the assassin's call home. It's foreign and stifling and made the world seem extremely small.
But, slowly (mirroring Ileni's internal re-birth), as the story unfolds and Ileni learns more, the world opens itself up and my pin-prick focus dilated to reveal a richly developed world with political structures, cultures, and history of which I feel I have only scratched the surface but definitely want to learn more.
This wasn't the easiest book in a lot of ways because of how alien the assassins feel and how terrified and angry Ileni is throughout pretty much the whole book. But it was fascinating. I could not get enough of it. Death Sworn gripped me and would not let me do anything but read until I had finished the book, and then it left me desperate for the sequel.
Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key________________________________