Review: Death Sworn by Leah Cypess

Thursday, February 13, 2014
Title: Death Sworn
Author: Leah Cypess
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Series: Death Sworn #1
Pages: 352
Published: expected March 2 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.


I don't know how Death Sworn ended up being so fun but it did. I raced through this one in just under four hours; with her Ileni, Cypess has created a very flawed and complex heroine. She's difficult, but like Nyx in Cruel Beauty, I liked her more for her complexities. Reading her story made for an afternoon unmoving in my chair. With a few hundred pages and some truly interesting characters, Cypess's story is entertaining, actiontastic, and smoothly written. The plot may falter occasionally, but it's never boring to read this young adult fantasy.

The strength of the novel lies in its characters. The worldbuilding has potential with the Rathian Empire/rebellion, but it's still pretty flimsy. There's vague information about the state of the world, but no real sense of place or history for either the Assassin's Cave or the Renegai village. The most knowledge we gain about Ileni's past is concentrated on her magic, or her mission. It helps us to know Ileni, but there's no culture, no atmosphere to the story itself. The magic and magic system that Cypess have invented are additional ideas with potential that went without being fully realized. There's just no explanation for how or why the sorcerer's powers work and it ended up bugging me whenever it was used/brought up by the characters.

I admit, I am a sucker for the silent, deadly type of male hero (see: Lan from WoT) so a book about assassins was bound to produce a worthy love interest. Sorin is that love interest, though that is a role he evolves into over the course of the novel. His initial role is much more nebulous in nature, but his character arc does a good job of revealing what kind of man he really is, as opposed to what he seems/Ileni assumes. And though I like Sorin, he lacks the dynamism of Ileni. He needs more definition and characterization, but what there is, I definitely was a fan of. Ileni is awesome. She's bitter and angry and scared and smart and so many more things. Though her world is magical, she reads and feels very realistically. 

On the surface, Cypess's story is about assassins and rebellion while a girl investigates a slight mystery and becomes involved in a small romance. But Death Sworn isn't just about action and assassination. It's unafraid to raise some philosophical questions while wending its way to a really surprising climax. Sorin and Ileni especially debate and banter well over topics like needs of the few versus the many, how to fight an enemy without becoming that which you fight and more. It's not a book purely about ethics, but the author isn't afraid to ask some hard questions when the philosophies of Ileni and Sorin clash. 

Death Sworn is a good start to a new series. It has a few areas that need some expansion and detail, but the basic plot structure is sound, the characters are interesting and evolve, and there's potential for some truly epic reunions and confrontations in the sequel. All in all, this book was a pleasant surprise and I will be on the lookout for the forthcoming sequel. I can't wait for more Ileni and more Sorin.

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