Serena’s Review: “The Queen’s Assassin”

39334176._sy475_Book: “The Queen’s Assassin” by Melissa de la Cruz

Publishing Info: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Caledon Holt is the Kingdom of Renovia’s deadliest weapon. No one alive can best him in brawn or brains, which is why he’s the Guild’s most dangerous member and the Queen’s one and only assassin. He’s also bound to the Queen by an impossible vow–to find the missing Deian Scrolls, the fount of all magical history and knowledge, stolen years ago by a nefarious sect called the Aphrasians.

Shadow has been training all her life to follow in the footsteps of her mother and aunts–to become skilled enough to join the ranks of the Guild. Though magic has been forbidden since the Aphrasian uprising, Shadow has been learning to control her powers in secret, hoping that one day she’ll become an assassin as feared and revered as Caledon Holt.

When a surprise attack brings Shadow and Cal together, they’re forced to team up as assassin and apprentice to hunt down a new sinister threat to Renovia. But as Cal and Shadow grow closer, they’ll uncover a shocking web of lies and secrets that may destroy everything they hold dear. With war on the horizon and true love at risk, they’ll stop at nothing to protect each other and their kingdom in this stunning first novel in the Queen’s Secret series.

Review: Something, something, quippy and non-spoilery intro. *Sigh* But frankly, this book didn’t make any effort to be good or original, so why should I! Yes, holding myself to the standard of books that I hated is the writing goal I want to set for myself and this blog! This was a whim book request for me, even though the synopsis didn’t seem particularly inspiring. I’ve had some great results from reading random books I haven’t heard a bunch about before (see “The Bones Houses”), but it does seem that it really goes one of two ways: I’m either blown away, the surprise only adding to the fun, or I absolutely hate the book and wonder why I ever risk it. Obviously, this was the latter.

I’m not going to even bother re-summarzing this book. The book blurb does a decent enough job and as the story is so predictable, there’s nothing new I could add to my summary of the story that isn’t an out-right spoiler. So let’s jump right into it! Usually I would start with the things I liked, but I have to be honest, there was really nothing I liked about this book. Often, if I don’t like the story itself, the writing is still good. If the writing is bad, there’s a character I can enjoy. Not so, here. The best I can say was that perhaps this book missed a publishing window where it wouldn’t have been quite so bad. I still wouldn’t have enjoyed it, but perhaps some of its most trope-y plot points wouldn’t have felt quite so egregious had this been released five years ago. It sure does read like a book that has completely missed the fact that everything it is doing has been beaten into the ground already over the last several years of YA fantasy publishing. So, good points: maybe passable if existed in an alternate reality where it came out in 2015.

The plot is incredibly predictable. Read the summary again. Make a few predictions. Spoiler alert! They’re all right. The book takes itself way too seriously with these supposed surprises as well. When I wasn’t simply exhausted by the pretense of it all, I was flabbergasted that anyone, anywhere, would ever think that these “reveals” could be read in a serious light. Shadow’s (there you go, another thing to hate! That name…) entire history is obvious to any one who has even a passing familiarity with these stories. The one aspect of her tale that could even be a surprise didn’t work in the book’s favor as it then retroactively undermined much of Shadow’s own narration throughout the book. Her story is told in first person. There are certain rules to first person narration, and this “surprise” threw all those rules in a dumpster fire in pursuit of “surprises.”

Speaking of first person narration, the writing was fairly bad in this book. Mostly this was due to the choice to alternate POVs between Shadow and Caledon and, inexplicably, to switch between first and third person narration for these two characters. This type of switch is always jarring and rarely justifiable. The only books I can think of that pulled off something similar were N. K. Jemisin’s “Broken Earth” trilogy titles, and those books were award winners, so you know they’re already a rarity. The choice here is not only bizarre but exists for no clear reason. If the author can’t differentiate between these two characters’ voices without switching writing tenses, that speaks to a whole new problem. If it was meant to represent some greater distinction between these two, I couldn’t spot it. And in the end, all it did was interrupt any flow or rhythm that the story was trying to establish.

Even without this, the pace of this story was all over the place. In the first few chapters, a million things seemed to happen one after another, leaving the reader confused and unable to connect to anything of these events. Worst of all, Shadow’s motivations behind these actions were never clear or explained. She just did things, so that things would happen, so that she could react to those things. And then the story took a jarring halt for a good chunk, and then again with the manic pacing. This, finally, was unpredictable but in the worst way.

The romance was also cringe-worthy and full of unnecessary angst and drama. At one point, the two go undercover…as siblings. Why? Because now there can be all of this increased awkwardness when others discover them being romantic! Angst! Drama! The author’s fingerprints were all over this, and each smudgy, forced moment just made me, again, cringe. To offset this, for a book with the name “assassin” in the title, there are next to no actual assassinations. It’s just yet another example of playing to the supposed YA fantasy crowd. People like books with the word “queen” in the title. And they like assassins…so.

Like I said before, the best I can say for this book is that some of the surprises, had they come in a book published five to ten years ago, could  have maybe worked. But the poor writing with the swaps in tenses and fast/slow pacing would remain. The poor characterization would remain. The romance, such as it is, would remain. And you’d still have to take a character named “Shadow” (get it? cuz she wants to be an assassin?) seriously for an entire book. I really can’t recommend this book to anyone. The author has several other books, so perhaps her die-hard fans will enjoy this. But for everyone else, there are better things out there. My usual recommendation for those looking for a good assassination book is “Skullsworn” so check that out instead.

Rating 2: I didn’t like anything about this book. The characters and plot were tired re-hashes of things we’ve seen a million times before in YA fantasy fiction. And the writing was poor, to really put the last nail in the coffin (a coffin that was not necessary to the plot as, again, no assassinations.)

Reader’s Advisory:

This book isn’t good. You shouldn’t look for ones like it. But here’s a generic Goodreads list that it’s on: “Queen in Title.”

Find“The Queen’s Assassin” at your library using Worldcat! If you must…

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