Ismae uses her supernatural gifts and the training she received at the convent for the daughters of the god of death, as an assassin, bringing justice and fighting for the independence of her country. Her biggest assignment yet is to infiltrate the court where war, arranged marriages, and fatal betrayal is brewing. She must find out who is behind the treason and dispatch them before they murder the young ruler and others for whom Ismae cares, all while pretending to be a lady of court and keeping her identity her secret. 

This is fantasy, history, romance and murder mystery with suspense, intrigue, and female empowerment. Ismae is a girl of action who doesn’t sit still or get pushed around. She’s always fighting, spying, taking risks and crossing lines but does so with a strong sense of duty and responsibility. She is, after all, a trained assassin. She seeks to kill justly and do what’s right, but where magic and betrayal collide, the lines around what is right, becomes blurry. 

The romance is well-developed and compelling, rebels against the cloying insta-love that appears too frequently in our genre, and truly has substance embedded in character, not just chance and good looks. I like romance served with a hearty side of emotional conflict, and this one had as much as there could be, yet parts of it sneak up on you subtly. 

Over the course of the book, Ismae gains learns to let emotions seep through her wall of hard logic and pragmatism, and also develops critical thinking – learning to appreciate those she trusts and obeys while acknowledging they are only human, and to think for herself despite everything she’s always been taught. The first of these is about finding balancing in her personality which we all could use, and the second is a theme which teenagers and young adults grapple with. This was a unique and unforgettable highlight of this year’s readings!