by Leah Cypess
Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy
Series: Death Sworn #1
Source: Won from Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy. (Thank you!)
When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.
But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.
YES to YA High Fantasy! I loved the setting of the Assassin’s Caves. It was cut off from the wider world, so the world-building happened slowly but surely and kept me curious. The author didn’t have a lot to work with for rich setting descriptions, but she still managed to draw me into the world, and the language was always vibrant. I absolutely loved the magic system! Utterly unique and enthralling, but still authentically high fantasy.
“She was only seventeen, but already she felt as ancient as the stones around her.”
First of all, Illeni is about the cutest name ever. I really felt for her character. She fell so far. The author portrayed her almost fatalistic view of her life excellently. I know I relate, and that many young adults will. The assassins were a bit more difficult. They were essentially brainwashed. It was hard to understand them (I’m just as much a pacifist as Illeni starts out), so I found it very difficult to relate. Still, I felt for Sorin, who never asked to be an assassin, but had no other opportunity to even survive.
I’m not really a fan of the fairly modern “Oh, I can’t admit I love you because that might lead to labels, or feelings, or even a relationship! Gasp.” type of ” romance”. Love should be the greatest experience we can have – don’t treat it like a burden or something to just fool around with. However, with these characters I must admit it made sense. They were both expecting to die soon, or at least had been conditioned to think their lives were not their own. Sorin was sweet and charmingly inexperienced, which I always appreciate. Illeni was a bit cold, but she mostly warmed up. Mostly. Her view of the relationship is half the reason I only gave four stars. She says she loves him, then says she can get over it. Sounds like she doesn’t really love him, then, doesn’t it? Or doesn’t understand the concept. Urgh. So frustrating.
The other reason I took off a star is the violence. Maybe I shouldn’t have read a book about assassins if I didn’t want violence, but it was more the attitude toward it. I get that the assassins are brainwashed into violence, that they’re fighting an evil empire, etc., but what really bothered me was how quick Illeni was to dismiss her morals and decide killing was “easy”. It just didn’t sit right with me. I did like her last decision, which seemed more in line with her principles, and I have hope that she’ll really take a stand against the violence and conditioning in the next book, and that the romance will actually be a bit more, you know, romantic. Overall, I enjoyed the story and recommend it.