PURCHASE:Amazon | Book Depository
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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