A sorceress without magic navigates lies, treachery and despair in this thoughtful conclusion to the fantasy duology that began with Death Sworn (2014).
Betrayed by her people and honed as a weapon, Ileni has left the Assassins’ Caves to investigate the tyrannical Empire for herself…before she agrees to destroy it. Accepting a double-edged offer from the Imperial Academy, she falls into tentative friendships with her fellow students of magic, but she can no more forget that their power is fueled by cruelty and death than she can resist its seductive allure. Meanwhile, both assassins and sorcerers have their own plans. Readers expecting glorious triumphs and love-conquering-all climaxes will be disappointed, as such tropes of epic fantasy are brutally demolished in spare, restrained prose. If the expanse of a vast Empire is only hinted at and the secondary characters barely sketched, the narrow focus on Ileni’s internal struggles is mesmerizing. While not entirely likable—she can be arrogant, judgmental and self-pitying—Ileni remains painfully sympathetic. She longs for righteous certainty in a noble cause, aches to achieve a heroic destiny through some great good deed, but she’s confronted on every side with ambiguity, complexity and nothing but bad options. Yet rather than being crushed by her shattered ideals, Ileni embraces compromise and learns to reach for the grace of tiny victories.
Somber and disquieting but alight with flickers of hope. (Fantasy. 12 & up)