A scarred street thief competes to become an elite assassin.
Sal comes from Nacea, a country and people obliterated in a war between other countries. After years living under an unsavory gang leader, robbing and fighting just to survive, Sal—who’s genderfluid and signals by that day’s clothing whether they want to be called “he,” “she,” or “they”—sees the perfect chance to get revenge for Nacea. The Queen’s Left Hand, which is “her collection of assassins and personal guards named for the rings she w[ears]—Ruby, Emerald, Opal, and Amethyst,” needs a new Opal. As Opal, Sal would have access to the wealthy lords responsible for the Nacean genocide. The trials for the new Opal unfold bloodily, with three rules: kill the competition, don’t harm anyone else, and don’t get caught. Both Auditioners and the Left Hand wear masks throughout. Sal has brown skin, trauma, a set of skills, and a heady crush on a noblewoman. Political exposition reads messily, and some microflaws in the logic feel sloppy (for example, Sal bathes and eats in their room before nailing the door shut against the other murderous aspirants). However, the killing games and court intrigue—which may or may not involve magical specters previously used for torturing and killing Naceans—are breathless and terrifying.
Gory, well-plotted, suspenseful on every page, and poised for the sequel. (Fantasy. 14-adult)