Title: Assassin’s Heart
Author: Sarah Ahiers
Source/Format: US hardcover
My Rating: 3/5 stars (tentative rating)
“Family before family.”
In the kingdom of Lovero, murder is legal. Nine rival Families kill in the name of Safraella, the goddess of death, all while vying for the coveted position as first Family.
Seventeen-year old Lea belongs to one of these Families–the Saldanas–and as a clipper, she is responsible for directly carrying out Safraella’s will and assassinating those whom someone has paid to have killed.
Currently, Lea finds herself in somewhat of a Romeo and Juliet situation, as she just so happens to be courting a Da Via, despite all of the bad blood between them and the Saldanas. But Val Da Via is different, right? That’s what Lea believes anyway.
That is, until she wakes to her home engulfed in flames and her family murdered.
Lea has no choice but to flee, racked with guilt, as she is certain Val has used her and that the Da Vias are behind the attack. Though she’s still reeling with grief, she has only one goal: To find her estranged uncle–the last remaining Saldana–and ask for his aid in avenging her family’s deaths.
“What would I do? The only thing I could do.
Kill everyone responsible.”
So, let’s start with the good things. This book has been pitched as Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather, and I can’t say that’s not accurate. There are two star-crossed lovers and the Families do basically operate like the mafia, valuing Family over family. I don’t think Assassin’s Heart needs those comparisons however, as Sarah has created a pretty unique world on her own here.
Fantasy novels as of late are much less original and seem to share the same recycled plot and similar themes, but the worldbuilding really sets AH apart. I don’t mean that it’s as thought-out and complex as Game of Thrones, but more that it is original. Each country and kingdom has its own values and religions (although it isn’t touched on too much–a bit more in the companion novel, Thief’s Cunning), like how Lovero worships Safraella and, therefore, death.
Also, ghosts. 😳 There are ghosts. At first I thought Lea meant ghosts more as an idea, as in more of a superstitious “this is what will happen if you don’t correctly kill someone” way, but then I realized she meant there are actual ghosts lurking around preying on the living, and I was hooked. Ghosts aren’t usually involved with fantasy unless it’s a one-time event with the purpose of furthering the plot by revealing some long-hidden, crucial piece of information, but here they are omnipresent and terrifying.
The other two upsides are the writing and the fast-paced plot. Sarah’s writing is just as responsible for effortlessly moving the story along as the actual plot itself.
However, that fast-paced plot is where my first downside to AH comes into play. Though it may be action-packed, a lot of the story is a bit repetitive. There’s a page here about Lea drowning in her guilt, followed by a page of her going on and on about her need for vengeance, followed by her angering someone or getting cornered by an enemy. Rinse and repeat, and that’s pretty much the book.
I also didn’t really love how a certain scene went down, as it felt like a cop-out, but the ending certainly made up for it!
Lastly, I mention it in my Lord of Shadows review, but I’m a “small details person.” I care more about the subtle, seemingly insignificant parts more than the big dramatic reveals or cliffhangers. In AH, I feel like small details could have gone a long way in adding to my enjoyment and appreciation of the story.
As far as the characters go, I really enjoyed Les; and though Lea had her moments, overall, she was an okay character–not the best but certainly not the worst heroine I’ve ever come across. Other than these two leads, however, the rest of the cast was largely made up of one-dimensional characters who didn’t add much to the story.
I know it sounds like I have quite a few negatives, but I really did enjoy this book! Plus, it was only Sarah’s debut, and you can really see the improvement in her writing in Thief’s Cunning.
Actually, all of the complaints I just mentioned were no longer issues in TC. Most noticeably, the characters were much more enjoyable, as they were more fleshed out and therefore easier to relate and connect to. (I actually really enjoyed Lea, so that’s quite the improvement!)
Conclusion: If you like YA fantasy, assassins, twisted societies, or stories that focus on revenge, you should definitely check this book out. It isn’t by any means perfect, but, for me, it was worth the read.
If you’ve read AH and it wasn’t your thing, I’d definitely recommend giving TC a try! Like I said before, the characters are much more developed and the overall theme and plot resonate nicely (that ending 😳👌🏼).
Thanks for reading! Hopefully I’ll have my review for Thief’s Cunning finished soon, so stay tuned for that! 😉