I really liked the premise for this and was fortunate enough to have my request accepted via NetGalley for an arc in return for an honest review.
In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family. Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.
I really enjoyed Mia’s character – the backstory that steadily emerges during her time at assassins’ school is compelling that had me engrossed and thoroughly on her side. I’m a sucker for coming of age stories set in training establishments, anyway – though Hogwarts it ain’t. The world is very effectively depicted and we get to meet a number of vivid supporting characters, who are all chilling in a world where dishonesty, cunning and trickery are prized over love, compassion and empathy – indeed the latter are regarded as weaknesses. I enjoyed the way that Kristoff demonstrates the cumulative dehumanising process of the assassins’ school as Mia continues to master the necessary skills.
This book is firmly in the grimdark section of fantasy – though in common with a number of other books with plenty of visceral violence and a cynical immorality, there is a fair amount of grindark humour running through it. I enjoyed most of it, although during the first section there were a number of apparently humorous footnotes I could have done without. It didn’t help that they thoroughly messed with the formatting of the Kindle ebook, so kept cropping up in the middle of the text in completely the wrong place. Besides, after the late, great Pratchett’s ownership of the device, I do feel other authors should give them a very wide berth. That said, they weren’t dealbreakers and I was relieved to note they disappeared in the second half of the book.
The plotting is well judged and despite a number of flashbacks and interruptions in the narrative flow, I was never yanked out of the story or confused (other than when the aforementioned footnotes made an appearance). There were several enjoyable plot twists I didn’t see coming – especially the doozy before the climactic end section which is really well done. I simply didn’t want to put the book down for the finale, having no idea how it was all going to end. All in all, a really enjoyable read.
However, I do have concern. This book has been categorised as a YA read – presumably because the protagonist is a teen and the book features her at ‘school’. I’m aware that many YA books deal with difficult issues, such as underage sex, internet porn, drugs and family breakup. In an ideal world youngsters shouldn’t have to confront these problems while grappling with the tricky business of growing up – but they do, so their fiction should also address these subjects. However, this book’s dark, amoral treatment of violence, family breakup and the very explicit sex scenes means that if you are in the habit of providing YA books for the youngsters in your life, I strongly advise you to vet this one first.
That said, I found it a blast and will be definitely looking out for the next in this series.