ARC Review: Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers

ARC Review: Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers
Assassin's Heart
Assassin's Heart #1
by Sarah Ahiers

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Action
Publication date: 02 February 2016
by Harperteen

Format: eARC

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With shades of Game of Thrones and Romeo and Juliet, this richly imagined fantasy from debut author Sarah Ahiers is a tale of love, lies, and vengeance. Fans of Kristin Cashore and Rae Carson will devour the flawlessly crafted action and inventive world building.

Seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana is a trained assassin. She was born into one of the nine clipper Families in the kingdom of Lovero who lawfully take lives for a price. As a member of the highest-ranking clan, loyalty to Family is valued above all, but that doesn't stop Lea from getting into a secret relationship with Val Da Via, a boy from a rival clan. Despite her better judgment, Lea has fallen in love with him; but she's confident she can anticipate any threat a mile away.

Then she awakens one night to a house full of smoke. Although she narrowly escapes, she isn't able to save her Family as their home is consumed by flames. With horror, she realizes that Val and his Family are the only ones who could be responsible. Devastated over his betrayal and the loss of her clan, there's just one thing on her mind: making the Da Vias pay. The heart of this assassin craves revenge.

This book is a prime example of wasted potential. It had assassins, it had drama, it had high stakes – yet the excution left much to be desired. At times, the story became too ludicrous, the world building too farfetched, and the characterisation too inconsistent fot there to be any ounce of believability.

We begin the story in the kingdom of Lovero, home to nine asssassin families – each honours the goddess Safraella with every single kill. Lovero and much of the worldbuilding is heavily based on Renaissance Italy and Mafia societies, the influences obvious from the naming convention to the mask that each assassin adorns. At first, this seems impossibly beautiful and promising, yet the world building quickly crumbles on further speculation.

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It must’ve been easy, to be a commoner. To know if they were murdered at the hand of a clipper, they would be reborn as infant into a better life. To know there was someone who would seek vengeance on their behalf or take their life if their sadness was too great. 

Uh, these commoners must have had some indestructible faith?

There are just so many questions I had about the ridiculous setting. All the commoners recognise the assassin and their family on sight, why do they bother with the garish masks? In fact, why bother with the masks at all – when they are never going to be prosecuted for murder, as their kingdom passes the kills off as an act of worship rather than a crime. The Saldanas and The Da Vias vie for power, apparently dictated by how large your family is – why does a family even need that many assassins? With nine families, it seems that the kingdom of Lovero has more killers than ordinary citizens. Who on earth is paying them for all these kills? How does anyone in the city maintain a semblance of security, when you only need money to kill someone off? Why do the families (our protagonist included) act so high and mighty over their work? Can you really be called assassins of your work is considered legal and everyone knows who you work for?

Serving Safraella was difficult work. But there was beauty and mercy in the shadows, too.

Essentially, the whole construct of this society was to enable our heroine to flaunt around in a pretty mask and to repeat the phrase ‘Family over family’ about a million times. It exists to glorify and romanticise murder. Yet, the assassins of Lovero are a sorry bunch – they’re the showiest, most spoiled pack of rich kids I’ve come across in YA fiction.

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The pacing of this book was also terribly uneven. We started off with a bang: Lea Saldana’s entirely family is murdered in a blood bath, most likely at the hand of her secret lover’s family. From that point, there was one obvious path for the book to take: an epic revenge quest filled with action and treachery. What we got instead was: Lea stumbling around to different cities, and half the book dedicated to her alternately trying to find her uncle and flirting with her new love interest. As I never had a chance to connect with her family, I never became invested in her quest. Instead, we had to hear her internally repeat both the tragedy and her end goal about a million times. Repetition does not result emotional pay-off, sorry.

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So pleased was Safraella by the king and the country’s devotion to Her that She drove the ghosts out onto the dead plains, granting Lovero Her patronage.

More jarring is the religious and supernatural aspect in this fantasy story. Safraella plays a huge role, as does the ‘ghosts’ that haunt the plains of this kingdom. We are meant to believe that everyone in this kingdom is hugely devout, the sole reason why the ‘ghosts’ have been kept at bay. Do I find it hard to believe that everyone in Lovero uphold religious traditions? Yes. Especially if the religious ideal ask that they accept all assassinations with a smile, seeking no vengeance.

But what I find even more ludicrous is the idea that a religion can be confined to a city! Everyone in Lovero worships Safraerlla. People outside of this kingdom worship someone else, even though they have heard of Safraella and her powers that puts ghost to rest. Um? A border does not put a limit on faith. I’m meant to believe that some royal decree prevented all the commoners from worshipping their own deities? Thousands of years of history have shown this does not work.

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We’re Saldanas. Sooner or later, we destroy the ones we love.

The characters are unfortunately unmemorable. With Lea being the stock standard badass warrior girl with a feminine streak, we’ve seen it done better in Celaena Sardothien (and this is speaking as someone who didn’t even like the first Throne of Glass book). Lea is largely defined by her goals rather than her personality, her one distinct trait was her devotion to Safraella – although that serves as a major plot point later on.

Her main love interest in this book is a bland nice guy, there to save her from her darkness and provide light — at one point in the book, she outright chooses him over her family. The side characters are predominantly assassins, and while they were intended to be vicious and bloodthirsty, they just came off as whiny children. We were told over and over again by the text about how dangerous they all were – yet none of them were particularly fearsome.

Despite the many flaws it has, the writing itself was engaging and made the book a breeze to read. I actually found it mildly entertaining until I sat down to write a review, and discovered the problems I had with it. If you’re after a quick, light fantasy – this could be the book for you.

Rating Report
Plot
Characters
Writing
Pacing
World-building
Romance
Impact
Overall: 2.4
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Aentee

Aentee

I'm Aentee, a 20-something lover of books and shiny things. By day, I attempt to prescribe books to all the patients in my optometry clinic. By night, I read books, watch TV, and spend way too much time on twitter.

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  1. says

    Ack, there are so many anticipated YA fantasy books for this year that just seem to be falling utterly flat. (I’m thinking Sword and Verse, for example.) This one is next on my review pile, but I can tell from your review that it’s not going to impress me much. There’s nothing worse than nonsensical world building!
    Hannah recently posted…Review: Practical Magic – Alice HoffmanMy Profile

  2. says

    I AM GOING TO CRY. I HAD SUCH HIGH HOPES. Actually i’m probably going to start reading this today…and, like I’m already cautious because I love assassin books, but usually find YA ones pretty lacking. Wah. BUT YEAH. D: Omg, this just seems a crying shame. Especially with so many assassins around. I mean, who is hiring? Is anyone alive with assassins’ bopping people off all the time??

  3. says

    I had this horrible feeling when this book was announced that it wouldn’t be able to meet its potential. Which sucks because I feel the last few debut/new fantasy series I’ve heard about have been the exact same, according to reviews I’ve read at least. Every single one is all talk, no delivery. This is such a shame because it wasn’t that long ago I thought YA fantasy was going to explode in quality and quantity and I was excited. I think I’ll trust my gut and stick to the authors and series I know can pull off amazing characters, plots, and worlds for a while. Thanks for the honest review!
    Bec @ Readers in Wonderland recently posted…Review: Shallow Graves by Kali WallaceMy Profile

  4. says

    I’m just writing my review for this book as well, I had SO many questions about this world. And I also mentioned how she chose her love over family, after rubbing it in our faces about how much Family means to her. But she shows time and time again how little they actually mean. Man, her characterisation was so inconsistent and the romance so bland. Gah, thanks for the review Aentee!
    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence recently posted…Chimera by Mira Grant Review: Survival of the FittestMy Profile

  5. says

    I’m really glad you ladies warned me about this one in the chat because I had plans on reading this one but whatever, I’m not going to waste my time with this. I haaate it when I have a million questions about the world building by the end of the book. And inconsistent pacing in plots also drives me crazy. I’m also really sick and tired of the standard badass warrior girl in fantasy books like you described. They’ve become so predictable. I think that’s the main reason I enjoyed The Impostor Queen’s heroine.
    Anyways, I’m sorry this was a terrible read for you, Aentee. But I’m also glad because you’ve saved me some time too!
    Lovely review!
    Nick @ Nick & Nereyda’s Infinite Booklist recently posted…Meet Hannah from Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins ReidMy Profile

  6. says

    I agree with you on the fact that this book was wasted potential. It could’ve been much better than it was, and it is sad. I really liked the mafia take on assassins, but the book had too many plot holes. And dude, the writing! It was so meh. I wish the book lived up to its potential, it would’ve given amazing end results.
    Mishma @ Chasing Faerytales recently posted…Fairytales Report #11My Profile

  7. says

    Aww…I’m sorry this was a bit mediocre for you Aentee. :( I was really excited about it, but it seems that you and a lot of other readers haven’t really clicked with it. I can completely understand why though – the repetitive plot and the religious subplots probably wouldn’t be my cup of tea either though. Nonetheless, thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ♥
    Zoe @ Stories on Stage recently posted…Pretending to be EricaMy Profile