Review: Death Sworn by Leah Cypess
Release date: March 4th, 2014
Publisher: Greenwillow (Harper)
Series: #1 in the Death Sworn series
Rating: Wasted potential.
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.
How can a book that ostensibly combines so many of my favorite things not be a good thing? By making it boring. This book was sworn to bore me to death. Did you read that synopsis? Mages? Assassins? Murder mystery? Ever-present danger? I would have loved to read a book with all those things in it! This should've been my catnip. I am the target audience for an awesome high fantasy badass girl vs assassins book. And yet... no.
I want to give credit to Cypess for coming up with a wonderful concept. Ileni is a sorceress from an esteemed... group of sorcerors? (things are a bit fuzzy in this book)... who once had great power, but her gifts are drying up fast. She is sent to be a teacher of magic to a bunch of assassins who live in these underground caves and also figure out what happened to her two predecessors beyond the obvious, "Duh, assassinated by assassins". How can a girl without powers manage to outwit a deadly brotherhood of... um, deadly brothers... and get to the heart of what evil lives inside the caves?
Spoiler: she can't.
I had a very long discussion ranty thing with Meg from Cuddlebuggery and Christina from A Reader of Fictions, so I'm going to shamelessly quote from that conversation and also shamelessly use a bunch of Chandler gifs for reasons.
The characters should have been full and gripping, but they feel shallow. Ileni starts out appropriately fiesty and sassy but fast loses her spark. Cypess clearly does not give half a fruitcake about any characters other than What's Her Butt and Love Interest. The vast majority of the scenes are just the two of them, being stupid. Oh, and the caves. The caves are entirely the prupose of this story. I feel like I got to know the rock formations better than anything, says Meg. Rock formations and the way Sorin movies. Sorin is Love Interest, by the way. Sorin is almost interesting, I felt, except that we really do spend a lot of time talking about how graceful he is, his deliberate moves, his coordinated muscles, blah blah blah.
I GET IT HE'S A DEADLY JUNGLE CAT MAN
This book is a perfect example of second book syndrome. Except it's the first book, which is kind of impressive.
We are stuck. In caves. We mope. We ponder. We vaguely try to solve mysteries. We force some bickering.
There is seriously an entire chapter of her following one dude through the caves.
SO MUCH WANDERING THROUGH CAVES.
I don't care about wandering through caves. Do you care about wandering through caves, Chandler?
This book feels like a wasted opportunity. A waste of a brilliant idea. The execution is lackluster, the wordbuilding sketchy, and the plot entirely underdeveloped. One of my particular pet peeves was the treatment of Ileni's lack of magic powers. I was really looking forward to reading about a heroine who is forced to defeat evil through wit and bravery, who can no longer rely on the crutch she's always relied on. And Cypess does that... but, um, Ileni can still totally do magic. Like, a lot of magic.
Ileni: I am too weak for this spell!
Ileni: *proceeds to do spell flawlessly*
Ileni: I am so tired! At least until I do another flawless spell!
Ileni: My magic is dying but I will use all of it for no reason!
What's the point of making her magicless if she's not actually magicless? Cypess attempts to show that this is an obstacle for Ileni by throwing in lines like, "The spell was more difficult for her now" or "She never used to get this tired". Well, maybe Ileni should go the fuck to sleep instead of wandering the corridors like Bertha Mason at night.
ALSO. ILENI. WHY DID YOU TELL SORIN YOUR ENTIRE PLAN THE THIRD TIME YOU SPOKE TO HIM? DO NOT TRUST THE JUNGLE CAT ASSASSIN BOY. DO NOT.
Yes, Chandler. A yummy, jungle cat sandwich.
And the problem is, the plot is a mystery, so everything hinges on the ending. So when the ending is weak, everything is weak. It feels rushed and underdeveloped and doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense. Mystery solutions are pulled out of nowhere, a knife just appears in her hands, and don't even get me started on the time a guy built a stalactite staircase in like twenty minutes. I could not. I put the Kindle down. I took a walk. I took a walk to deal with that. Also, to quote Christina, if the bad guy is actually dead, I will eat my bonnet.
I'm going to skip over the part where Cypess SKIPS OVER THE KISSING.
Psych! I'm not going to skip over it. That'd be stupid! Who in their right mind would build up to a point everybody wants to read and then just skip it? Just fade to black and not show it? Lol. That'd be crazypants, right? To not show a kissing scene in a book where the romance is the primary plot? No, way, let's show instead scene after scene of Ileni moping about some dude named
The world of Death Sworn is has fascinating bones, and I wish sooooo much that Cypess had given us more of it. She'd give us this little taste of the Empire and Renegai and i'd be like OO YES MORE buty then, nope, Sorin is walking like a jungle cat through a cave, or Tellis is Tellisy Tellis, this is much more important. I want to know more about this hugely creepy, entirely wonderful colony of assassins! And their hugely creepy, entirely horrific Master, to whom they are devoutly loyal! You have such good stuff going on! Why aren't you USING it?? Why does Ileni have no set, central character, instead becoming whatever the plot demands of her?
Ugh. Ughhhhh, book. I wanted to love you. I wanted you to love yourself. Live up to your potential! I wanted your romance to make me swoon, not wonder if the characters actually even liked each other. I wanted your villain to terrify me, not make me roll my eyes. I wanted your mystery to enchant me, but instead I was bored. If this book had focused on the characters and really developed them and the world around them (and I don't mean the literal world, ie STOP DESCRIBING CAVES), then maybe this could have been a winner. It was so close. But it got lost somewhere along the way.
Probably took a turn down the wrong cave.