I had greatly enjoyed Death Sworn last year; finally we had a YA protagonist in a dangerous situation and she was thinking about survival intelligently rather than swoony handsome assassin boys who protect her. In this second and final book in the series, Magic-less Ileni will see the other side of the story: the real Empire she has been raised to fear and revile all her years. Where the first book was about coming to terms with her loss of magic and surviving the Assassin enclave, Dearth Marked is very much about the Imperial sorcerers: Ilena will grow quite a bit and realize she still has a lot to learn about the true nature of life.
Story: Ileni had left the Assassin enclave – freed by Sorin after she killed the Master. But Karyn wasn’t through with her and kidnaps her outside the caves; Ileni wakes up in the Imperial Sorcerer school. Karyn wants vital information about the Assassins and Ileni want to survive – together they will dance around each other as they are both caught up in very real betrayals, infiltration, and politics. As she learns more about the sorcerers, she discovers she really didn’t know both sides of the war at all – and it is starting to look very much like both were very wrong. Caught in a tug of ware between both sides, who can she trust if even her own faith is shaken?
Many people will likely be frustrated by the lack of clear ending; but really, it was never about Ileni changing the course of a world or overturning governments. Cypess’ books are very much about a journey of change and self discovery – it’s a meditation on the voyage and not the destination. Because of this, she neatly sidesteps so many tired YA fantasy/dystopian tropes. The book isn’t about a romance, isn’t about a unique snowflake, and it isn’t about moustache twirling evil monsters that she must kill. Nor, fortunately, is it about romance or the love story. For while there is a light romance in the story, the ending makes it clear that Ileni is defined by so much more than the men with whom she becomes involved.
Several new characters are introduced, some old ones return, and together they form the impetus of the story. Each was distinct and none were cardboard characters. I think the only weakness in the book was Karyn – she was a bit too eager to stick her hand in the flame in order to win Ileni over to the Imperial side. Fortunately, because both the Assassins and the Imperials (and even the Renegai – her tribe) were heavily flawed, the ending definitely made a lot of sense. And by keeping the series to two books, Cypess has the luxury of focusing on the journey but without boring or tiring out the reader.
Those that did not fully enjoy the first book would likely not enjoy Death Marked. It is slow in the middle since it is all about giving the time needed for Ileni to recognize and then be forced to reconsider her perception of the Imperials. That said, this is the perfect two sides of the same coin – the view from the Assassins and the view from the Imperials as seen from a neutral third party. I appreciated the intelligent writing and heroine who actually thinks rather than reacts or overacts. Both Death books were an antidote to the silliness of the typical YA novel. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.