Review: Death Sworn

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Death SwornDeath Sworn by Leah Cypess
Series: Death Sworn #1
Published by Greenwillow on March 4, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.

Once again, I picked up a book with good reviews from people with whom I often agree and once again I am disappointed. Death Sworn has so many things that I should love (assassins, hate to love romance, magic), but it didn’t work for me at all. I ended up doing a spontaneous readalong of this one with Debby (Snuggly Oranges), so my discussions with her helped me flesh out my thoughts and also made the experience of reading Death Sworn a bit more fun.

When I started Death Sworn, I was all HELL YEAH, because the opening was awesome enough that I thought this book would rock. Ileni (I hate this name, because it kept sounding like “ill Lenny” in my head) is heading to this underground society of assassins to teach them magic. She was once a powerful sorcerer, but at 17 her stores of magic are almost entirely dried up, and this is her final mission to serve her people. She expects and hopes to die discovering who murdered the two previous sorcerers sent to teach these assassins, as part of a deal by which the assassins do not call the Renegai (renegade community of sorcerers).

The best thing about Death Sworn is definitely the assassins. They are led by this super creepy but mostly shadowy figure called simply The Master. In a lot of YA assassin things, the assassins don’t like what they’re doing, but Cypess goes all the way. The assassins LOVE killing people and have a cultish devotion to The Master. They are creepy as hell, and I love the world building, which basically makes every aspect of this world questionable. Who are the good guys? ARE there good guys? Should I root for the assassins, the sorcerers, the Empire?

Unfortunately, it all slid downhill from that strong start. Ileni, who initially seemed cycnical and strong, quickly proves herself to not be particularly bright. She blunders around and would have immediately been caught and killed on her secret mission were it not for Sorin. Ileni basically never manages to put things together, and her characterization is completely inconsistent. She stubbornly refuses to do something for ideological reasons for half the book, but then she does it and is completely not bothered. She is weak and whiny, but then suddenly is taking out assassins. No.

Then there’s the romance. The foundations here are hate to love with Sorin, who’s assigned to be here guardian. Hello, this should have been my favorite thing ever. But it wasn’t. This is close to my favorite kind of romance, and I had nary a feel. Partly, it’s that Sorin is constantly calling her stupid.

“‘You,’ he said finally, ‘cannot possibly be as stupid as you seem.’

‘I wouldn’t be so certain,’ Ileni said coldly.

When their interactions aren’t cheesy, they’re like this. Not only does he call her stupid, but she actually agrees like that’s some sort of cutting insult of HIM. Um, okay then. In fact, since I read an eBook of this, I was able to go back and see how many times the word “stupid” appeared in this book: 25. Almost all of those are either Ileni thinking that about herself or someone else saying that to her. That’s not even counting the synonyms, a few of which also appear. Is it unsurprising that by the end, I agreed with the general consensus as to her intelligence? Of course, depsite the fact that she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, she’s the chosen one. So, you know.

Anyway, once the romance finally kicks off there was an almost awesome flirting scene. Then the chapter ended. At the beginning of the next chapter, she’s thinking about how much farther they went than she expected. I flipped back to see if I’d accidentally managed to page through the kissing chapter. THERE WAS NO KISSING. None is the amount of kissing the reader gets from this book. There is however endless moping from Ileni about her previous sorcerer boyfriend Tallis and about Sorin. Both Ileni and Sorin alternate between cheesy protestations and hard-assed determination to do what they must. It is all so unconvincing.

On top of inconsistencies in characterization, the book had a lot of generally weird moments. Sorin discovers her secret mission to discover who murdered her predecessors because he was training with a dog, but then he was also following her? During a fight, a man gets hit in the forehead with a knife hilt first, and is basically unaffected. During another fight, someone is choking her and “Ileni didn’t see where the dagger came from, but suddenly it was there in her hand.” Literally the only people who could have given her a dagger at this point were the guys trying to kill her. Riiiiiight. Then later, she and Sorin are stuck at the bottom of a cliff, so he dismantles some rocks and builds them something climbable in no time. CHICKAWHUT? View Spoiler » Much of the book felt sloppy, though this could have been fixed from the ARC version I read.

Death Sworn will undoubtedly work for you if you can connect with the characters. I thought it had a lot of potential, but my dislike of the main character by the end prevents me from having any interest in continuing with this series. I still might try  Cypess’ first series though.

Favorite Quote:

“We built the entrance here on purpose,” he said. “It impresses the . . . impressionable.”

“Such cutting wit,” Ileni said. “You had better take me to my rooms so I can recover.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

This is how I imagine the Master laughing at Ileni's fail.

This is how I imagine the Master laughing at Ileni’s fail.

14 responses to “Review: Death Sworn”

  1. *snickers* oh god this book. My review is so similar, hahaha, but yeah, you know how I feel about this. *sigh* Good catch on the number of times stupid is used. That’s so ridiculous.
    Debby (Snuggly Oranges) recently posted…Book Nerd Problems #19: Paws Off My Favorites! (Favorite Book Hypersensitivity)My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      YAY for suffering together! Or, better yet, Ask Again Later, because happiness and Schroeder. This book. *snores* *reads a bunch of kissing scenes to compensate*

  2. This one sounded promising, but now that I’ve read your review, I may steer clear of it. I don’t like when fantasies feel forced. They’re supposed to be plausible, and the rock thing in particular, really? Hmm. Great review!
    P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex recently posted…WoW – Daughter of ChaosMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I really wanted to love this, and the opening was promising, but…I can’t recommend it particularly highly. It’s worked for some friends, but it fell pretty flat, and the WTF moments still have me wide-eyed in shock. Though maybe the finished version will fix those?

  3. Hmm it sounds like I’ll probably end up skipping this one. I’d be be so annoyed if stupid or some variation of it kept coming up randomly because a) that’s a lot of times to use a word like “stupid” and b) it’s just stupid (see what I did there?) Also, the romance is kind of funny! They don’t really do anything except for flirt and then she’s all, “We did way too much this time.” That’s so frustrating! Ugh sorry you were the black sheep for this one, hopefully your next few reads will be better. Fantastic review, though! <33
    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted…Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany SchmidtMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      The repetition of stupid was the weirdest. Is this REALLY how you want me to think about the protagonist? The romance could have been amazing, but there was no foundation. Just suddenly they’re in love and making out, only we can’t actually even see that, and whyyyy.

  4. These characters are definitely going to annoy me! Ugh. I’ll be reading it at some point in the near future, and I suppose I’ll just have to focus on the creepy-awesome assassins.
    Amber @ Books of Amber recently posted…Love Triangles and Instaloves and Why I Hate ThemMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Haaaaa, but on the plus side, we don’t always agree, so maybe you will inexplicably love it? I mean, Altered, amirite?

  5. Bekka says:

    I really liked this one, which is why I’m surprised that you are so positive in your review. I only gave it 3.5 stars though because I do recognize the enormous flaws it has. But I guess I was able to connect to Ileni better, and I enjoyed her character arc.

    But YES to the lack of kissing. WHAT THE HELL. How are you going to build up the tension to such a ridiculous height and then completely leave out the climax *cough* of this plot point? I loved Sorin and I loved the love-to-hate romance, but yes, it was underwhelming.

    I seem to have missed the part about the mysteriously-appearing dagger, and all the mentions of “stupid” (though I do remember that cringe-inducing bit of dialog.) I admit I read this one really quickly, though.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you didn’t like this more. 🙁 I know you’ve been going through some reading slump issues and I hope that picks up for you.
    Bekka recently posted…[Imaginative Discussions] – Get To Know UsMy Profile

  6. Annie says:

    I’m not reading your review yet because I like reading reviews after I’ve read the book. But I’m super excited for this book because I really like Leah Cypess’ other novels and the concept sounds really cool and I read the short story she wrote that was kind of similar and it was awesome and I’m going to stop babbling now.
    Annie recently posted…pantser or plotterMy Profile

  7. I had the same problems. I really liked how it all started and Ileni was so promising in the beginning.. It was very disappointing how it all went downhill, especially after the romance. I didn’t like that Sorin called her stupid, but at the same time I kinda agreed with him.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Early Review 235. Anthology Grim.My Profile

  8. […] our time together was, sadly, boredom. I ended up surprise buddy reading this one together with Christina, so it’s going to be no surprise that our reviews are rather similar. We were, unfortunately […]

  9. I was so excited for this one but now that reviews are coming in…ugh, I’m not even sure I’ll bother with it anymore.
    It sounds so cool and I love the whole assassin thing, but it seems lacking in a big way.
    Michelle @ In Libris Veritas recently posted…Review: Grim edited by Christine JohnsonMy Profile

  10. I had to skim because I want to read Deathsworn and I saw that your feels were not made of love.

    So here is what I will say, DAMN YOU FOR THE ILL LENNY now that is how I will read the book too.
    April Books & Wine recently posted…Half Bad by Sally Green | Book ReviewMy Profile

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