Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers

Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers

Title: Assassin’s Heart
Author: Sarah Ahiers
Series: Assassin’s Heart, #1
Pages: 420
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: February 2nd 2016

       “In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible—and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct—and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down.
      Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.”

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“The ghost shrieked—a guttural screech that echoes across the field. It rushed my way, its white, glowing form spread out behind it like morning mist.”

Sarah Ahier’s debut novel, Assassin’s Heart, had such a promising premise but fell short in execution. Lea Saldana has been raised in a family devoted to the goddess of death and resurrection, Safraella. As part of a Family of “clippers” Lea has been trained as an assassin since birth. For Lea, her Family means everything, so when she loses them, her entire world crumbles. As much as I wanted to feel the devastation of such a loss to the protagonist, the story moves far too quickly, never allowing readers a chance to feel anything but a passing sense of sadness. Assassin’s Heart really needed to take its time at the beginning of the novel, not just as a way to introduce Lea’s family, but as a way to introduce the world of clippers. I would have liked to have seen this world play out more because even though we are told how the system of assassins and clientele works, I would have liked to have seen it in action.

I enjoy reading about flawed characters and Lea, being only seventeen, is more rash decisions than careful preparation. The problem with this is she has been raised as an assassin, schooled in various skills, and one of these ought to have been strategy. Lea is an example of someone who has little to no understanding of how important a well-thought out plan is. While I will say that Lea does learn a valuable lesson about family by the time the novel finishes, I do wish the book would have spent more time devoted to how she was dealing with her loss internally rather than focusing so much on her overwhelming desire for revenge. The novel could also have used more development in terms of minor characters. Val, Lea’s secret suitor, is given only two scenes with the protagonist before tragedy strikes and I felt very little for him and Lea’s relationship as a result. The most interesting secondary character was Lea’s exiled uncle Marcello, who I really wished we could have spent more time with.

Assassin’s Heart had a really interesting religious system that I wanted to know more about, but failed to grip me emotionally and could have been more enjoyable if the characters and world were given more time to develop.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Crown of Midnight by Sarah Maas

Title: Crown of Midnight
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass, #2

It’s been months since Celaena Sardothien won the competition that would make her the King’s Champion, his personal assassin tasked with dispatching those who would challenge his authority. With a rebellion brewing in Eyllwe and rumors of one in his own city, the King of Adarlan will do anything to hold on to power. Celaena plays a dangerous game, secretly undermining the orders of the King and lying to her friends in the process. And there is something else amiss in the castle and the further Celaena digs, the more she discovers that she isn’t the only one keeping secrets. Everyone has something to hide and everyone’s loyalty will be tested, and no one will be able to outrun their destiny.

“She didn’t know how she made it, or how long it took but suddenly she was on the ground and sprinting toward the open front gate.

The guards or footmen or servants started shouting. She was running–running as fast as she could, losing control of her body with each heartbeat that pumped the gloriella through her.”

Caleana would like nothing more than the chance to fight for her freedom and the first book is a prime example of the lengths she will go to to achieve this dream. Another side of Celaena emerges in this book, one fearful of what others expect from her and one who doesn’t believe happiness is a possibility because of these expectations. There is a greater cause calling her and her own happiness might have to be sacrificed. Everything that Celaena cares about can be used as a weapon against her and only time will tell if she will crumble entirely or embrace her fate.

Prince Dorian and Chaol Westfall both continue to play a prominent role in Celaena’s life, but each have their own struggles they must face. Dorian feels like a less frivolous character this time around, who is just discovering his own influence. Chaol has worked hard to become Captain of the Guard and given up his inheritance. The loyalty he shows to the King correlates with this sacrifice and his own oath. In the end, Chaol will have to decide what is right rather than who he has sworn his allegiance to.

The King of Adarlan reveals himself to be an even more wicked character than I gave him credit for in the first book. Him, along with the enigmatic Baba Yellowlegs, are both creatures bred out of nightmares who I will not soon forget. The second book in Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass series, Crown of Midnight, is even more exciting and thrilling than its predecessor, with higher stakes not just for Celaena but potentially for the whole world. I freely admit that I held this book to my chest, both smiling and agonizing over it, feeling an overwhelming delight over the release of the next installment this September.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass, #1

Celaena Sardothien, the famed assassin, has been imprisoned for a year in the slave mines of Endovier. Freedom seems an impossible scenario until the Crown Prince of Adarlan pays her a visit. He offers her a deal on behalf of the King. The King of Adarlan is hosting a competition and whoever remains standing in the end will be his Champion, his personal assassin. If Celaena wins, she will serve the king for four years and then be set free. As the competition begins, Celaena finds herself caught in a battle of wills and not just with the other competitors. The contest takes a more dangerous turn when a contestant is found murdered and Celaena discovers there is something even more dangerous in the castle than herself.

“Aren’t you first going to show me the basics…I was in Endovier for a year, you realize. I could have easily forgotten.”

“From the amount of killing that went on in your section of the mines, I highly doubt you’ve forgotten a thing.”

Celaena Sardothien is a bit of a contradiction. Forced into a life of murder at a young age, all she has known is killing in order to survive. She is ruthless and cunning, with a brazen tongue to boot. But she is also sensitive with a painful past that continues to haunt her. She loves books and music, and dreams of one day being free. The relationships she develops with several characters bring out her vulnerable side, making it impossible for any of them not to care for her. And hurrah! Celaena is given a female friend in Princess Nehemia. I hate when a female character is surrounded only by men, making it feel like the only relationships in her life that matter are with the opposite sex. I’m really looking forward to discovering more about this rebel supporter in the next book.

Yes, this book has a bit of a love triangle. I mention this because I know some readers simply refuse to read books involving a protagonist torn between two guys. I found Prince Dorian to be a more compelling character not when he was with Celaena, but when he was interacting with his father. The young heir feels stifled by the man he is to succeed, and is often at odds with the King’s methods. But what Dorian lacks is a show of strength, that’s not to say he doesn’t have it. It is my hope that he will be challenged in the coming books and become a stronger leader. His relationship with Celaena is rather playful and flirtatious. He is very open and willing with her, which as a prince makes him extremely vulnerable to manipulation and not necessarily by Celaena herself.

I have a lot of love for Chaol Westfall, the young Captain of the Guard. He is a intelligent character with a lot more self-disciple than those around him. Unlike Dorian, he is immediately wary of Celaena and instead of giving her his trust, over time she actually earns it. This is indicative of their entire relationship. The playful exchanges between the two feel earned and thus feel more significant. I felt that his character was challenged more than either Celaena’s or Dorian’s, and in the end he make a significant choice that alters his life completely.

This is my second time reading Throne of Glass because I wanted a fresh look at it before starting Crown of Midnight. I am more impressed by Sarah J. Maas’s book this time around. The fact that Calaena is not invulnerable, but is made more human by her fear of the King, the struggles she has with her past, and the fact that though she may be an assassin, she is not a villain are all enriching elements in this first novel. There is a greater threat to the people of Erilea and I am looking forward to seeing Calaena enter this new battle.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Death Sworn by Leah Cypess

Death Sworn by Leah Cypress

Title: Death Sworn
Author: Leah Cypess
Series: Death Sworn, #1

Brought up as part of the Renegai, a splinter group of sorcerers working against the Empire, and educated in the art of magic, Ileni has never imagined anything different for her life than becoming as powerful a sorceress as possible. Everything changes for Ileni when she is told the magic flowing through her veins will soon cease to exist. Faced with the inevitable disappearance of her power, Illeni accepts the post as instructor of magic in the Assassins’ Caves where she is tasked with discovering how her two predecessors were killed.

Ileni must hide her waning magic, her only real defense against the calculating killers surrounding her. She should be afraid and repulsed, even if her people believe working with the assassins will bring about the fall of the Empire, but the more time Ileni spends with the skillful assassin Sorin, the harder it is for her to remember that she shouldn’t trust him.

“The knife was only touching her skin, not slicing into it. Ileni’s heart pounded against her chest, and instinctively reached for her magic before remembering she shouldn’t. Instead she brought her hands up and pushed with all her strength at the arm holding her prisoner. She might as well have tried to move the wall behind her. Her assailant didn’t so much as acknowledge the attempt.

Ileni forced her hands back to her sides and said, in her coolest voice, ‘The knife seems unnecessary, then, doesn’t it?'”

Ileni is a strong protagonist who doesn’t allow herself to be bullied by the men surrounding her, even when it becomes more and more apparent that her dwindling powers will do little to help her defend herself. Being the only female in a male-dominated situation can be extremely intimidating, especially when those males are capable of killing you with their bare hands, so I admire Ileni’s resolve and strength.

Sorin and Ileni’s relationship took time to evolve and I always appreciate it when authors slow down the romance because it’s much more believable. Sorin has been trained to be a cold-blooded killer, willing to give up his life with a single command, but I wanted to see him be more vulnerable. We are told that he isn’t a perfect follower, but I never felt the supposed rebellion churning inside him enough to see him differently than the efficient assassin we are introduced to in the beginning.

The Assassins’ Caves are kept secret and isolated from the rest of the world out of necessity, but unfortunately as a reader, I felt the isolation on another level. While we are given a summary of the history of Ileni’s people with the evil Empire and the intricate workings of the assassins, it is very brief and not developed enough to keep the larger picture in the back of my mind while I was reading.

Leah Cypess’s Death Sworn, though an interesting story, did not move me emotionally as much as I would have liked.

Rating: 3/5

★★★