A betrayed teenage assassin seeks revenge against her family’s murderers.
In a lavishly constructed fantasy world with an intricate society of religious assassins, murder’s legal—provided it’s committed by a clipper, a member of an elite assassin Family, as worship of the goddess of death and resurrection. Oleander “Lea” Saldana, of the Saldana Family, is secretly seeing Val, a member of the Saldanas’ nemesis Family, the Da Vias. When a surprise attack on her home leaves Lea the last member of her Family standing, she knows whom to blame: the Da Vias, Val, and herself. On the run from the Da Vias—who know a Saldana escaped—Lea must brave rival clippers and the equally deadly angry ghosts outside the city wall in order to find the other remaining Saldana: her uncle Marcello. He’s been long exiled for some mysterious incident that involved the murder of his uncle (the Family head), and that is also the source of the Da Vias’ rage. The worldbuilding—especially the story’s internal rules governing ghosts and the way the worship of different gods shapes each country—is smarter than the story’s protagonist, whose baffling decisions are plot-driven. Too, the exposition seems not to trust readers’ memories. The pace limps along through repetitive prose and frequent reminders as Lea slowly makes progress, especially romantically (predictable but sweet). The final act’s twists show more life than the rest of the book.
It’s a nifty premise, but the execution doesn’t live up to it. (Fantasy. 12-16)