Format: Hardcover ARC
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2
What did you like about the book? This story follows gender-fluid thief Sal as they rob a rich Lady and find a flyer announcing a pending competition to become the next Opal, one of four assassins loyal to the Queen. Sal, or, Auditioner 23 as we know them for most of the story, goes through trying to prove their merit as an assassin worthy of the Queen while also hiding their true motivation: to kill all the Erland Nobles who were responsible for withdrawing troops from their homeland of Nacea without warning when an impending out-of-control set of magical shadows ravaged through. Along the way, Sal is falling in love with Lady Elise, the Lady they rob at the start of the book.
Anything you didn’t like about it? It had a lot of potential but sadly it really failed to deliver. This story is convoluted, repetitive and supremely boring in large info-dumping swaths. Yet, despite all of that info being dumped, none of the characters or the world really come to life on the page. The few moments of interest, such as when one auditioner ends up flayed with the fear that the monstrous magical shadow creatures have returned, is ground down under the repeated mantra “no magic exists anymore”, which ends up being true and the story is poorer for it. The world building is nearly non-existent. It seems it should be fascinating; as there are hints that the use of inked calligraphy and sliding screens for doors/windows point to a world more Asian in influence; it is never satisfyingly described. I never felt immersed in this world as we watch Sal tediously go through boring classes on bow usage and sword work and nearly all auditioners getting killed off-screen. The other auditioners also feel very one-dimensional as they are only known by their numbers until they are killed off, one by one. Maud, Sal’s maid, was the only character with more depth than most and an interesting (though barely given/explored) backstory. The gender-fluid representation was also disappointing. It’s great to have a fantasy novel with a gender-fluid character as the main character without it being a “queer coming of age” story. However, the character’s gender identity is so simplistically explained and randomly introduced in the text in odd moments and not even vaguely contextualized in the greater environment of the story’s world. Sal seems confident in their identity and the story makes it seem like gender-fluidity is a given thing…yet so many characters have a difficult time with their expression and identity that it really feels like a very strange disconnect, one that is never explored. Sal’s explanation that “You can call me ‘she’ when I dress like this. I dress how I am.” may be their personal experience but as they are the ONLY character even mentioned in the book with a fluid-gender, the readers never find out if that’s the case or not. Honestly, this book very much reads like a lot of descriptive back-story and feels like you’re always waiting for the story itself to finally start. Instead; it never really does seem to start and the “story” of Sal’s revenge mostly comes in the form of a one-line addition to a timeline Lady Elise apparently wrote which comes at the end of the book.
To whom would you recommend this book? Anyone interested in a book that reads like the boring sire of Throne of Glass and Hunger Games.
Who should buy this book? Public Libraries with very large fantasy readership
Where would you shelve it? YA Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: April Duclos, Hudson Public Library, Hudson MA
Date of review: 10/9/17