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.
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Rating: 5/5 Stars
Quick Reasons: awesome, cohesive world-building; plot driven by action, suspense, and intrigue; kick-ass main characters with growths, distinct backstories, and personalities befitting their lots in life; engaging, gorgeous prose
Oh. Oh, my. I LOVED this read, and I’m so happy I decided to finally pick it up. Huge thanks go out to Sarah and Abby from YA Buddy Readers’ Corner for sending a copy of this my way—you girls rock!
So, first and foremost (and probably not surprising, if you’ve been paying any attention at all to my reviews): the cover. It is absolutely GORGEOUS, and manages to portray in at least a small way what this book is about. Whoever designed the covers for this series did a beautiful job—the colors, the perspective choices, everything about it helps set the tone SO well. To be honest, I was initially drawn to these books because of the covers alone. Now that I’ve read it, I’m going to need to own physical copies—these would look beautiful on my shelves.
“It’s not hard to kill,” Ileni said softly, as if discovering it all over again. “Not if you hate someone. It’s so very easy.”
But it shouldn’t be.
But enough about the outside—we don’t read books JUST for that, right? I know I don’t. The writing here is just as gorgeous as the cover art. Leah Cypress knows how to paint pictures with her words. She’s woven a tapestry of magic, secrets, and politically charged intrigue. Her voice and the story are so strong, you won’t believe this is only the first book in the series!
The characters are stubborn, snarky, and refreshing—they might be a little naive about SOME things, but they all know they’re not invincible. They all know they’re not irreplaceable. Our main protagonist’s voice shines clear and strong in the writing; despite being 3rd person POV, the narrator’s focus remains almost completely on Ilena and her journey to rock-bottom (figuratively and literally here). Her unique outsider perspective and reckless care lend her a degree of sass I fell in love with almost immediately. Honestly, the girl could cut you with her words, and I LOVED that about her.
How to throw assassins off balance: cry in front of them.
Despite realizing she was sent to the caves to die, she doesn’t let the struggles she faces bog her down or keep her from seeking answers. She spits daggers at danger and laughs; she plays with fire almost heedlessly at times. I just adored her completely—watching her grow and shape right alongside Sorin, the unexpected and surprising (in a pleasant way!) love interest, only helped my love for her leech to my heart like a fungus.
His dark eyes searched her face. “But you love me,” he said finally.
She had no reason to deny it. Ileni lifted her shoulders. “I’ll recover.”
Theirs is NOT the love conquers all, give up the fight, lay down my weapons and surrender type of love. They come from different worlds, different religions, different upbringings…and instead of fighting this, or trying to change who they are, or wishing for a miracle, they accept, they move on, and they help each other grow. They don’t feel the need to hide or change who they are—they love each other regardless, and that makes this sort of unique as far as YA goes. Their personal growths, brought on largely by each other, are endearing and heart-wrenching; you’ll fall in love with them as individuals and as a couple MANY times before the last page.
His eyes met hers, cold and deadly, and the dagger’s edge pressed against her skin. Then his expression shifted into horror. He lowered the dagger and stepped back. “Ileni. That was not smart.”
“I know. I’m sorry…” And this time, she didn’t even try to stop the tears.
I just adored this read so much, I wish I could put it into more cohesive words here. I loved all the characters (even the “bad” ones, because I mean really, they’re all just so human and relatable and well-written!) The prose is gorgeous, the plot is intelligent and well-constructed, the scenery Leah Cypress chose to work with is unigue and so fitting the tone. This whole thing is a masterpiece—readers are bound to be enthralled from page one. The exploration of the ridge between magic and murder is just the cherry on top of a beautiful and dangerous mound of wonderful.
I highly enjoyed this read, and recommend it to lovers of Maggie Stiefvater, Sarah J. Maas, and Renee Ahdieh. I will definitely be picking up the sequels as soon as I can; I can’t wait to see what happens next!