review by Maryom
When she was ten years old, Mia Corvere's father was executed as a traitor, and her mother and baby brother thrown into prison to die; she herself only escaped death due to help from a shady presence, which since then has accompanied her, in the vague, shadowy form of a cat. In the six years since then, Mia's life has focused on preparing herself for the day she can claim her revenge, learning the skills that will enable her to join the secretive Red Church, which trains the best assassins in the land.
With the other new students, she'll be schooled in not merely the obvious fighting skills, but also stealing, poisoning, and seduction - all arts an assassin can put to good use when pursuing their target. While training, the students themselves are at considerable risk, from both their instructors, who, for example, think nothing of poisoning the class to see how quickly they can work out an antidote, and some of their fellow apprentices who, like Mia, have joined up with vengeance in mind. Not all of them will make it to the end of training, and, of those who do, only four will achieve the status of Blade.
The basic plot is a familiar enough from many a fantasy, sci-fi, even historical, novel; a youngster, frequently orphaned or dispossessed of their birthright, vows to get even with the world, gets taken under the wing of a wise old man, undergoes years of training and emerges as a hero - it could be anyone from Luke Skywalker to Arya Stark. But just because it's a familiar story in outline, doesn't stop this being an enjoyable, gripping read.
Mia is an interesting lead character; born to a life of luxury and comfort, she's become hardened and steadfast in her plans for revenge, but is still haunted by horrors in her past. Her shadowy cat-shaped companion, Mister Kindly, has probably assisted more than Mia realises, because he absorbs her fear, but she's only just beginning to understand her powers with regard to manipulating these shadows, so it should be interesting to see how those skills evolve in the coming books. The reader knows that Mia goes on to become a renowned assassin - the story is told by an omniscient narrator from a future standpoint - but the exact reasons for her fame aren't revealed.
There's excellent world-building - from the combination of suns which leads to an almost constant state of daylight, the vaguely Roman feel to civilisation and name, the city built in and around the bones of an ancient god, to the Red Church and its dedication to a god of murder.
A slight downside, I thought, was the rather 'boarding school' feel to the Red Church's apprentice training, but it's probably excellent for readers who grew up with Harry Potter and now want something similar but more adult. Don't be fooled though into thinking it's a book for children; the story opens with sex and violence, and both are present, often in graphic detail, throughout the book.
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre - Adult fantasy