This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Stop what you’re reading – are you reading right now? Put it down. Go pre-order this book. Then go finish your book ASAP so you can be ready for the first installment of Jay Kristoff’s new fantasy trilogy. It’s gonna be a good one, guys. Oh boy. I can’t believe I have to wait for the next one.
Considering it is now a week before the release date for this book, and I spent all weekend ranting to my friends about how good it is to the extent that they all bought it for themselves at the HarperVoyager stand at YALC and could recite the release date themselves, unprompted, I felt it was finally time for a full review.
Mia Corvere is ten years old when she experiences death for the first time. When her father is executed as a traitor, Mia barely escapes his failed rebellion with her life. Swearing vengeance on those who destroyed her family, she fights to survive and makes her way to the Red Church, the school for assassins. In order to become a Blade, Mia must best her classmates in the arts of steel, poison, thievery, and the subtle arts (seduction, steeeamy). But there is a killer on the loose at the Red Church, and Mia must be extra vigilant if she wants to fight to the top of her classes, become a Blade, and ultimately, just stay alive.
Things I liked
We’ll start with the basics.
The setting: The Red Church is a twist on the classic magical school, the ruthless anti-Hogwarts for the post-Potter generation. The world itself is a collision between Ancient Rome and Merchant Prince Venice (as described by the author), an imagined world as if the Republic had never been overthrown. Religious fervor dominates the republic, and its leaders are determined to destroy the Red Church and its Blades once and for all. Coincidentally, it is these same leaders upon whom Mia has sworn vengeance for executing her father and destroying her family. She certainly does not lack ambition.
The freaking front cover: Am I allowed to include this? What a stunning work of art. Designed by the incredible Kerby Rosanes (whose Instagram you should follow, here). What I haven’t mentioned so far is that the world of this book is lit by three suns, meaning that true night rarely falls – unless you’re at the Red Church, of course. The three suns begin on the front page and wrap around the back. I hear they’ll be moving around as the next books in the series come out, like orbit and stuff (thank God there will be more books in this series).
Moving on to the characters.
Mia Corvere: what a protagonist. Never flinch, never fear, never forget. It is not just Mia’s determination and ruthlessness that make her an incredible character to ride along with. It is also her companion, Mr Kindly, the cat-who-is-not-a-cat, who makes her fearless but not to the point of stupidity, and the way she forms relationships with other characters. This is not the story of a friendless, brave hero, the outcast. Mia and her classmates all have their own tragedies, their own reasons for joining the Red Church. They all had to fight to get there and they all have to fight every day to stay. Mia lives her life in the shadows because the shadow answers her when she calls, but she is also funny, bright, clever, sometimes warm and, surprisingly often, kind. She also smokes cigarillos like a bleedin chimney.
The tutors at the Red Church: but I won’t talk too much about them. You should meet them for yourself.
The potential Blades, a.k.a Mia’s classmates: Tric, Hush, Ash. Their stories. Their tragedies. Their triumphs.
I could go on and on here, so I’ll just talk about one more thing.
The narrative voice: the worldbuilding takes its time, it lets you in little by little, as you need to know – but there was no sense of deus ex machina here, no convenient get-outs. The narration is nuanced, gentle when it needs to be gentle, rich when it is rich (steamy when it is steeeamy), and sharp in the midst of action. There are some extremely dark moments in this story but the humour when it comes (which it does, frequently), is excellently judged. The story and worldbuilding are aided by Pratchett-esque footnotes, which sometimes fill in histories you didn’t know you wanted with amusing anecdotes – usually ending up with someone getting themselves killed through a disaster of their own making – and sometimes simply revel in the occasional absurdity of what is happening to our protagonist. I thought these footnotes might be intrusive and break up the flow, but I was happily mistaken.
Things I didn’t like
I’m sure it’s going to be a very long time until there is another book and I don’t know what I’ll do until then? That’s kind of a thing I don’t like?
Should I read this book?
Please, please, please do. I’m pretty sure this is the best fantasy book I’ve read since The Lies of Locke Lamora, which is no mean feat. Make this the next fantasy you read.
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