Genre: young adult fantasy, lgbt; gender fluid mc
Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.
When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.
But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.
Rating out of five: three stars (in doubt)
I very much feel like this is the queer & that way better version of Throne of Glass with its deadly auditions to become the Queen’s new assassin. What was a pleasant surprise was how the main character never was very vicious in their thought-process or tried to defend their actions, their reasoning behind taking lives were very business-like and unapologetic. It was a hard life, the would-be assassins knew partly what they were signing up for and people were going to have to die. The problem this brought with it was that Sallot wasn’t a very likeable main character, I always felt like I never got to see their whole reasoning or that it was just very shallow. They were smart enough to make it somewhat reasonable how they got out of deadly attacks, and without the smaller, cute and helpful moments with their servant Maud none of it would’ve worked towards the end. Otherwise the book is very built on cheesy, typical fantasy plotlines. The queer characters makes it better, especially Sallot using he, she and they pronouns based on how they present, but I would only recommend this book as a Throne of Glass alternative. The YA fantasy part of it was very obvious, in a not good way. I’ve since learned it was a debut, and I’m not very surprised as I felt it was half-finished.
The writing was very mediocre, especially I found myself struggling to care about the fight scenes and plotting scenes for traps, which I usually adore, because of the writing. There’s so much potential in the characters, the magic and them being masked, but it just doesn’t end up somewhere. Even though I’m really not a big Sarah J. Maas fan anymore, she does bring a certain fire to the motivations behind the characters, which was lacking here without anything to replace it with other than shallowness. If Sallot had been a true sociopath I would’ve nearly prefered that, as it would’ve brought an interesting element.
I read this book right after finishing “Ship of Smoke and Steel” by Sjango Wexler, which was extremely similar as far as the protagonist’s voice went. While that book was lacking in many of the same ways, except it handled the queer aspect a lot worse, that book built parts of a truly interesting world powered by magic. Here there were just no world-building except the knowledge that Sallot knew how their entire country had been destroyed and wanted revenge for it. It should not be a surprise when that’s not enough as a reader. But for anyone disliking this book for its protagonist being nothing special except gender-fluid; fuck off.