Genre: YA Fantasy
Synopsis: Ileni, like all Renegai, was tested for magic at an early age–all children have magic, but it fades as they reach adulthood. She passed her Test, and was trained as one of the most promising students. Now seventeen, her magic is fading away, and it turns out that a mistake has been made. She should never have passed her test, never have received training for magic all those years, because her magic was not permanent. Her life had been spent training to use a skill she would no longer have access to.
Bitter at this turn of events, Ileni accepts a dangerous mission assigned to her only because she is now considered expendable. The Renegai have an agreement with a prominent group of assassins–they teach rising assassins the use of magic in return for being left alone. But the two past teachers sent by the Renegai are dead, and this bodes badly for the next one. Ileni is asked to go to the assassins’ caves as the next teacher. She isn’t expected to survive so much as buy time.
Series: There’s going to be a sequel, which is good because this is clearly only part of the story.
POV: Third person, one POV (for 99 of the book).
Complicated vs. Straightforward: Straightforward–I’m adding a new segment here, because I want to distinguish between whether a plot is fairly simple or has tons of twists and turns. Epic fantasy generally has many things going on at once, leading to an intricate plot and many characters. A lot of YA instead focuses heavily on one character and one character goal.
Of course, the breakdowns aren’t always determined by genre. And neither is necessarily better than the other, as both can be the best fit for a particular story. But it does make for a different feel when reading, and a lot of people prefer one over the other, so it’s a fair category.
For Death Sworn in particular, Ileni’s the only person really trying to make something happen at this particular moment, so she’s the only one with an urgent character goal. Everyone else can afford to wait. It makes the story feel straightforward.
For most of the book, Ileni is playing a bluffing game. She has to convince the assassins around her that she’s still a powerful sorceress despite having an increasingly diminishing supply of magic. It’s interesting to watch her keep up the pretense, buoyed only by the expectations of the men around her. Meanwhile, she has to decide what moral lines to draw when the stakes are high and she’s confronted with a completely different kind of lifestyle.
Life in the caves is very self-contained, but pieces of the outside world keep drifting in. And of course, the plans that have put Ileni in such a compromising position, and that drive the entire assassination plot, revolve around shaping events in the outside world. Most of the book has Ileni coming to terms with the world inside the caves and with her own new-found limitations. But the closing of the book is based on the big picture, and Ileni’s place in the big picture.
Everything she’s learned about herself and the world around her coalesces in her decision as to what her next step will be. And it’s an intriguing decision. It’s not often a character recognizes how much they don’t know like this. I’m interested to see how this plays out in future books. It’s certainly the kind of decision that proves an author is unafraid to move on, to keep the plot turning instead of sticking to a status quo.
The relationship between Ileni and her love interest is interesting in that, despite how they care about each other, they remain very different people with very different goals. Very different goals that matter to them more than anything else. And that’s certainly refreshing in our modern love-before-all society. They don’t suddenly lose all the beliefs and loyalties they’ve had up until this moment. Ileni doesn’t do something she disagrees with just because her boyfriend tells her to. How this will work out in future books, I don’t know, but it’s a promising start. I’m quite surprised, actually.
Anyway, fun YA fantasy.