The story follows Mia Corvene, daughter of a traitor, as she follows the command of her Master(guru) who has set her on a particular mission; to seek apprenticeship at a rather terrifying school for assassins. It follows two timelines, a past timeline indicated in italics and a present timeline where she has been moulded into who she is today. Her master Mercurio, Tric, Ash, Lottie, Naev and a bunch of others are other whose stories you’ll get a glimpse of but only a glimpse. Of these characters her time with Tric is most developed and this friendship (Ash and Lottie too) is what kept me going more than anything else. I loved how Kristoff wrote the friendships and relationships, especially the witty repartee, and these are the best portions of the story. The dialogues were so hilarious at times that I kept pausing to read it out loud to people.
“It’s like these fellows who name their swords ‘Skullbane’ or ‘Souldrinker’ or somesuch.” Tric tied his saltlocks into a matted knot atop his head. “Tossers, all.”
“If I were going to name my blade,” Mia said thoughtfully, “I’d call it ‘Fluffy.'”
Tric snorted with laughter. “Fluffy?”
“Byss, yes,” the girl nodded. “Think of the terror you’d instill. Being bested by a foe wielding a sword called Souldrinker… that you could live with. Imagine the shame of having the piss smacked out of you by a blade called Fluffy.”
She was ten years old, after all. Alone and helpless and afraid. But here is truth, gentlefriends, no matter the number of suns in your sky. At the heart of it, two kinds of people live in this world or any other: those who flee and those who fight. Your kind has many terms for the latter sort. Berserker. Killer instinct. More balls than brains. And it shouldn’t surprise you, knowing what little you know already, that in the face of this thug and his blade, and laden with memory of her father’s execution never flinch never fear instead of wailing or breaking as another ten-year-old might have, young Mia gripped the stiletto she’d fished from the darkness, and slipped it straight up into the puppy-choker’s eye.
Now imagine everything written like this. That’s how it is and it just isn’t for me. The writing was what I’d call trying too hard. I’m sorry to use that phrase but that’s exactly what it is. It feels like the author has tried really hard to come across as edgy, artistic and intelligent and that’s where it stops, at trying. And oh god the footnotes! Taking up more than half the page at times. If these had actually been incorporated into the story it would have made for much better reading. I understand that this is a unique style and this is probably his writing style but it is precisely this writing style that made me immediately jump onto my amazon and remove all his books that were on my wishlist. The writing was a one star for me and if this wasn’t a review copy I wouldn’t have forced myself into reading past 20% of it.
PACING AND WORLD BUILDING
The pacing, because of the writing, was immensely slow. Honestly, like I mentioned earlier, if this hadn’t been a review copy I wouldn’t have forced myself to continue but I am really glad I read this because at the 50% mark the book becomes pretty fun. The world is very interesting and beautifully described, especially the school and the masters, aka Shahiids, (although the use of the word Shahiid was very weird for me because I know so many people called Shahid) who don’t care a tiny bit for their students and are only interested in creating assassins. You’ll naturally have our favourites and expect them to be kind but they won’t and tat where Kristoff shines, in daring to do the unexpected and unaccepted.
While this does get better I do think it would have been a universally 5 star read if the author had just refrained from using every single metaphor he liked. If you’re coming from more mature adult fantasy authors then this will not be up your alley. I won’t be harsh because I actually liked the story but if you want a thoroughly critical review I suggest checking ones on goodreads.
I really liked how the relationships were built up and while I do want to know what happened next I won’t be reading any more of Kristoff’s books. I’ll just have to google spoilers to see what happens. You will find a lot of familiarity with many other books that you’ve read but it’s all different enough to be creating an interesting new world. As for whether you should read it…if you do not have the patience and the time for meandering metaphors, over dramatized prose and drawn out moments, avoid it. But read this for the awesome friendships, an uncaring main female character and a relationship that is not cliché.
I’m sorely disappointed that I didn’t enjoy Jay Kristoff’s writing, particularly because I had Illuminae and Gemina on priority on my Amazon wishlist. But then again just because I didn’t like this book doesn’t mean you won’t. Check out other reviews and see if those are better suited to your tastes. I’m sadly bidding adieu to this author whose books I so desperately wanted to fall in love with. I gave this 3 stars at the end because the second half of the story was absolutely enjoyable. and if you can get there, it is totally worth the effort.
*I requested a review copy from the publisher who very generously provided me one. Opinions expressed are my own.