Following good stories wherever they lead
Ileni never expected to die this way.
We meet her walking underground, entering a cave of assassins, readying herself for the inevitable.
Because this is where her people have sent her. Because she has no place else to go.
Ileni, sorceress of the Renegai, is about to assume her post as teacher of the Assassins. And she does not expect to survive the job.
This is a wonderfully crafted story, darkly atmospheric and uncoiling with each chapter into something deeper and more complex. Illeni is our ally in these dark caves, and a joy of a protagonist — a truly strong character who keeps fighting despite her own growing doubts and fears about her weaknesses. She has lost everything — her community, her purpose, the very cornerstone of her identity — and has to navigate a community built on treachery and brutality. A place where death is around every corner, and her own days are numbered. Illeni has no illusions about her fate; the last two teachers to the Assassins perished in these caves, and no one is telling the truth about exactly how they died.
She is in a snakepit, losing the only thing that keeps her breathing among these deadly students: her magic. As it drains away, her usefulness fades with it. She must conceal her loss of magic from everyone around her, even as she teachers finely-honed killers in the craft. Meanwhile — she wants to find out who killed her predecessors.
Thankfully, she isn’t completely alone.
Implacable and unreadable, at first glance Sorin is the ideal assassin. He does not question. He does not hesitate. He serves the Master of the Assassins with unwavering devotion, and is eager to be sent on missions to prove his worth in blood.
Sometimes, there are moments where he does the unexpected. Like helping Illeni.
Sometimes, there is a look in his eyes that hints at something untamed, rebellious. Not the perfect assassin, the trained killer. A boy who explores the caves at night and laughs at wonders. Sometmes, Illeni wonders if he dreams of a different life for himself, away from the caves and the killing. But how can she trust a murderer?
I love the progression of Illeni’s and Sorin’s relationship, a fraught and complicated dance. If you expect the Girl to come in and reform the Bad Boy, think again. This is deeper than that, and harder, and no one is completely right or wrong. That view of a relationship, between people from vastly different worlds and perspectives — that is worth watching.
This is the first in a duology, and there’s plenty more room for development and expansion. Hopefully, there will be more exploration of the world beyond the caves, and the oppressive Empire, in the second installment. A slow-building start to a rebel-based adventure that shows real promise.