A Non-Spoilery Review of Death Sworn By Leah Cypess
It was fate, I suppose, that caused me to bring up Facebook the morning that Leah posted the chance to read her new book, DEATH SWORN before anyone else, on her fb page. The rules were simple: Be one of the first 10 people to email her. Get the book, read the book. Send it on to the next person on the list. Review the book online after reading it.
I believe that it's acceptable to wait until closer the release date to put up out reviews but I decided that I was going to put mine up now (since it's not spoilery) to try an drum up some excitement in advance. I'll repost linkies to my review closer to the release date. And I'm also going to post it on Amazon, whenever the option to post reviews goes live.
But, I digress. On to the review!
Firstly, here's the blurb from the back of the ARC:
A secret cave of assassins-in-training. A young sorceress sentenced to be their teacher. This dangerous and eerie novel is an epic fantasy, perfect for fans of Cinda Williams and Kristin Cashore, but it is also a murder mystery, a fiery star-crossed romance, and a journey into the unknown.
I'm not sure that blurb is going to be the final version, but it gives you an idea. There's a larger blurb on the Death Sworn Amazon page, if you want to hop over there and read it. Or preorder the book... just saying.
What I loved:
Well, everything. But to be more specific, uh, everything.
Leah's writing draws you in right from the first sentence, sweeping you along with Ileni as she ventures into the caverns that will be her home for the next, however long she manages to survive. The world of the Assassins' Caves is fully realized, even while most of it remains shrouded in mystery. And though we don't experience the world beyond, that from which Ileni has come, and that of the Empire which poses a threat to both Ileni's people, the Renegai, and the assassins of the Black Mountains, we get a grand view of it through references in the story. Which sets you up nicely for the next book.
The characters of Death Sworn were the sort that I relish. There were ones I loathed to no end, and others that I desperately rooted for. Sorin, the assassin in charge of protecting Ileni as she carries out her duties as a tudor to the assassins-in-training, remained a mystery to me throughout the story. I never quite knew whether I could trust him or not. It's very hard to create a character who walks that line of trusted friend or something else entirely. Too often authors attempt it with ham-handed results. Leah succeeded flawlessly, and even having finished the book, I'm STILL not entirely sure where I stand in regards to Sorin, which is a lovely thing indeed. Ileni was an entirely different story, as I found myself alternatively cheering her on, and berating her for her faults, mostly which had to do with physical abilities. The thing is, I LOVE characters that aren't like me, that are opposite in personality. And even more, I love it when a character is my complete opposite, yet earns my utter devotion. Ileni was a strong female character, a problem solver who determined to learn how to adapt and master her situation. She's the sort of heroine I want my young niece looking up to. The kind that will surprise you in all the best ways.
The intrigue of Death Sworn knows no end. I am not a big mystery fan. They just aren't my thing. Yet time and again Leah Cypess manages to twine mystery in with her fantasy works to devastating effect. Death Sworn does not disappoint in this respect. The underlying mystery involving the murders of Ileni's predecessors flows seamlessly into her story of survival within the Assassins' Caves, her quest not only to survive, but to solve those murders. Too often, authors add subplots that end up falling by the wayside, unrealized, or which muddle the story until the reader forgets what's important. Not so here. The mystery of the Renegai murders is so deftly intertwined with Ileni's story of survival and growth that it is a natural process of discovering the perpetrators, not an awkward 'who-done-it' reveal.
What I Didn't Like:
There really isn't much that I didn't like. But, I yearned to know more about the magic that had been such an integral part of Ileni's life before she began to lose it. I wanted to know things like how the magic worked, and how it might be taken from someone. But it's very difficult to get vast and detailed information about a certain subject into a story that doesn't have a great deal to do with that certain subject. Also, I felt as though all the delectable tidbits of information and reference we got about the magic Ileni came from and that which is used by the Empire, were given to us in a manner intended to both intrigue us and set us up for the next book. So the fact that I didn't learn everything there is to know about it in this book is easily forgiven. Instead, I'll just camp outside Leah's house and lurk-in-waiting for the next book!
In closing, I'd like to add that I am REALLY happy to see the words 'epic fantasy' in that ARC blurb. I feel as though there is a gap in YA writing (which is slowly finding books to fill it) where 'epic fantasy' is concerned. In the adult sense of the term, there are many authors who write epic fantasy, but where Young Adult is concerned, it seems to be overlooked. Not in the sense that there aren't authors/stories to fill it, but in the sense that the term simply hasn't been applied to books that actually fit the bill. I love a fully realized world, a sprawling tale that fully involves the reader in nuances and details. But the adult version of epic fantasy is usually too much for me. When I have to create spreadsheets to keep track of characters/countries/conflicts from one chapter to another, you've lost me as an audience. Just me, personally. For a long time, I've felt that there were YA books (Kristin Cashore's are a great example) which are no less ornate in their plotting and world-building (but much easier to follow) and which contained stories of world-altering importance, that fell into the category of epic fantasy. However, it seems as though these books are only just being recognized as bonafide epic fantasy. Or perhaps they're just beginning to be advertised as epic fantasy. But any which way, I'm very glad to see it!