Synopses. Spoilers. Sarcasm.
THIS BOOK. Hot damn. I went into this book having never read Jay Kristoff’s works, and now this is in my Top 5 Favourite Fantasy novels. In an Italian-themed fantasy world with extremely creative and grim topography, this novel focuses on Mia, a girl who is training in the Red Church to become an assassin to avenge the death of her ‘traitor’ parents. Mia is also a darkin, someone who can communicate with shadows and use them to her advantage. Her shadow-cat companion, Mr. Kindley, is a dryly sarcastic side companion that adds a whole new layer to her abilities and personal growth. This book also carried footnotes, making the novel quite dense but informative without the info-dumps seeming out of place. This book mirrors Throne of Glass* and An Ember In The Ashes*, though is darker and more crass with overt sexuality and swearing not often seem in YA books. This is more of a fantasy with young characters, rather than a YA fantasy novel, get me? I loved this book and give it a rare 5/5 stars. Plus, if a book has a map, I’m going to buy it. This books has DOUBLE MAPS and was a signed first edition, so my buying it is guaranteed.
The world Kristoff creates for this novel is unlike any other I’ve ever read. The footnotes were a smart way to add history and quips without making the book seem ramble-y. It’s the little moments that I liked the most, like copper coins being called ‘beggars’ and silver ‘priests’ because those are the people who handle them most; how a certain order of priests get their tongues cut out as their vow of silence; how the city is broken down into ‘The Spine’ and ‘The Ribs’. Once we get inducted into the Red Church, the details about the unmarked graves and Blood Walk pool were gruesome but awesome (excuse me while I go remodel my front hallway). Also, we need to talk about the library for a second. What gorgeous language Kristoff uses to describe the place and its Chronicler, ‘bent back like a question mark…He looked about a thousand four hundred and fifty two years old’. The library is described as ‘piles of books. Mountains of books. Oceans and oceans of books. Books bound in leather and wood and leaves, locked books and dusty books, books thick as her wrist and tiny as her fist.’ This is better than any Beauty and the Beast library dream. Plus there are killer bookworm/dragon/serpent things that hate late returns. Where can I get one of those? (I’d name him Nigel)
As we quickly find, the Red Church does not believe in subtle teaching methods. Casual dismemberment is right up there with regular visits to the Flesh Weaver and getting poisoned every other day. One of the most intense scenes is when Mia goes into the city and gets captured on purpose to see how loyal she is to the Church (Iron or glass. She would be neither. She would be steel). I loved every bloody moment of it.
While Mia had a temper, she was never the one being extremely reckless (Ash) or the extremely studious one (Carlotta) or the vicious one (Jessamine). When the main character is an assassin/assassin-in-training, s/he is often the one who goes flying into situations and racks up a body count as they go. Mia was smart and cautious, ready to read the full situation before diving in. Tric was sympathetic as well, as a killer who has a moral compass. My heart broke when I found out the reason his name is ‘Tric’ and where it comes from. Ow. What a crappy family. I really enjoyed their romance – it wasn’t too fast, the tension was palpable but they end up doing something about it (hello sexy times) that went past the typical will-they-won’t-they chase. The sex scenes were hot as hell, but the part I liked about them most was how both Tric and Mia find out the power sexuality holds over the other. My heart also broke when Tric gets his tattoos taken and has a crisis about his self, showing how events in your life can define you for as long as you let them.
Then there’s this whole idea about faith that was really interesting to dive in to. There are plenty of references to gods and deities (the Church is the Church of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, after all), festivals and offerings. Mia mentions how she doesn’t know if she believes at all, even though she lives to serve these deities every day. She constantly has this fear of being alone, which is why she is so attached to Mr. Kindly (who is…what? A demon?). It’s why her romance with Tric is so sweet, because he’s the only one who can comfort her when Mr. Kindly goes missing. Also don’t think I missed that one moment where Mr. Kindly becomes hostile towards Tric because he keeps away Mia’s fear. Is this epic foreshadowing? I sure hope so. Demon Cat versus Fish Boy.
Other moments of importance: the epic sand kraken fight of the beginning, the flashback to a religious equivalent of the Red Wedding when Mia finds her mother in the dungeons of the Philosopher’s Stone and kills EVERYBODY to create the Massacre, and the sad moment when Carlotta dies. A scene I was sickly fascinated over was when Tric and Mia got whipped together. What a powerful and horrific scene. One of my favourite lines is near the end, during the sand kraken fight with the Luminatii. ‘The swiftest among them realized she wasn’t a daemon. Not a horror. But a girl. Just a girl. And that thought terrified them more than any daemon or horror they could name’.
Now let’s talk about that ending, shall we? Mia pulls off the biggest con of all (applause) by tricking Diamo into ‘swiping’ her notes and killing him, then showing up Jess in the ring like a BAMF. THEN we get the fierce battle with Tric with such a low blow I’m like, Jesus destroy him, why don’t you. But she did it so he would legitimately fight her for a spot in the final Blades. Then she wins Truths but doesn’t kill an innocent and gets sent home, which is a stupid move on her teachers’ part since she’s the only one who didn’t eat the poison. We find out who the traitor was, my notes are “OH MY GOD IT WAS ASH AND OZ ALL ALONG HOLY SHIT”. 100% did not see that coming.
Final thoughts: Cassius dies, which I am a little angry about since I want to know more about him. Hush is gone, but I would love a novella about him. Tric is dead, but like, how dead? Mia seems to have gotten the hang of this shadow-jumping, and Ash is still out there to fight another day. The government is after them, and the Red Church is gone. NOW WHAT HAPPENS?
This is one of the most crude, intense, and bloody novels I have ever read and I loved every page of it.
*Sarah J Maas, Sabaa Tahir