Death Sworn, by Leah Cypess

I have just read, with much enjoyment, Death Sworn, by Leah Cypess (Greenwillow, March 2014, YA).   It is the story of a teenaged girl, Ileni, who once had prodigious magical ability, and a bright future as a leader of her people, the Renegai.  Now Ileni's magic is deserting her, and soon will be gone entirely.  So her elders send her to teach magic to a clan of assassins, uneasy allies united against a common enemy.  Now Ileni, from a people who abhor violence, must spend the rest of her magic-less life trapped in an all-male world of trained killers, brainwashed to be loyal to their Master (who is fiendishly smart and scary).

Her life, however, might not be long.  Someone murdered her two predecessors, and she might well be next.

She is not sure she cares.

But Ileni refuses to succumb to despair, as slowly begins to unravel the threads of the plot in which she is ensnared.  Though her magic continues to fade, her determination to understand the machinations that surround her grows, and even as she greives for her lost love back home, she finds herself drawn to the young assassin, Sorin, who's been assigned to her as her guide and guard.  And Ileni finds that she can't stop caring about not just her own fate, but about the larger struggle in which she has become embroiled.

And I just ate it all up, because I love character-driven fantasy and really liked Ileni, from whose close point of view the reader sees the story.  I thought her reactions utterly believable, even her feelings for Sorin, which she herself realizes are, uh, complicated by the fact that he is her de facto jailor, and a brainwashed killer.   But Sorin is actually not unsympathetic, and is (possibly) more than just a tool of the assassins' Master....and as the days pass he is shown to be rather likeable (though still, as Ileni reminders herself often, a killer)... and I can understand how a 17-year-old in traumatic circumstances whose life has imploded might not feel like resisting her feelings.  And it is 100% her choice, not his.

The reader does have to make a certain leap of faith viz the whole underground assassin society set up-- it is a wonder that they don't all go more insane than they do, and in retrospect I worry about ventilation and vitamin D deficiency and fresh fruits and vegetables and that sort of thing (presumably the handy underground rivers carry the sewage away, so that's ok).  But I was caught up enough in the story that I refused to let this bother me while reading.

So in any event, I liked Death Sworn lots.

Those who do not like character-driven fantasy set in a rather limited physical environment with only teasing glimpses of the larger political/social point of it all in which there's not much that Happens in an exiting sort of way probably won't like the book as much.  There are maybe forty pages that are Exciting Happenings, but since I have a tendency to skim Exciting Happenings so as to quickly get back to the thinking and feeling part,  this was fine with me.


  1. I liked it a lot too and had a great time reading it. I have some quibbles about certain details, but overall I just had so much fun with it. Looking forward to the companion novel lots.

  2. Good-o! I'll give it a try. The Greenwillow imprint is a temptation on its own, as I've been rereading Diana Wynne Jones a good bit lately!

  3. I skimmed your review *very* lightly, as I don't like to spoil books I plan to read, but I'm very happy to see that you liked this one. I have it out from the library and I think I may have to shoehorn some time in this weekend to read it!

  4. Okay, I'm back after (finally!) having posted my review. I find that I agree with you 100%, as I am also one of those who likes character-driven fantasy. Lovely review, Charlotte!


Free Blog Counter

Button styles