Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers
“Murder is worship.”
Assassin’s Heart had the markings of an exceptional novel: loosely inspired by Romeo and Juliet, the novel follows seventeen year old Lea Saldana, daughter of one of the nine ruling assassin families, who seeks vengeance after her family is murdered by a rival family. I was immediately drawn to this novel by the premise and, thanks to the kind folk at Netgalley, was able to finally sit down and devour the novel in a few sittings.
The beginning of the novel was very well done and I was immediately drawn into the world that Sarah Ahiers had effortlessly created. Nine opposing families of assassins murder people, as paid for by the one who wants them dead, and offer up the sacrifice to their patron goddess Safraella. The assassins are called ‘Clippers’ because they ‘clip’ a life short. These Clippers are highly respected by the common people and are considered the nobility of the kingdom of Lovero. When they carry out a murder, each Clipper places a gold coin into the victim’s mouth to ensure that their soul will be resurrected by Safraella in the next life. Without this coin, the victim will become a ghost and their soul will wander the world, lost, forever.
The protagonist, Lea, is the highly skilled daughter of the First Family, the Saldanas, and the current family in the greatest position of power. Lea is conducting a secret affair with Val, the son of the Saldana’s greatest rivals, the Da Vias, who just so happen to be the Second Family. When Lea wakes up to her house in flames and her entire family murdered, she knows that the Da Via Family is responsible and begins her journey of vengeance as she vows to take down every member of the Da Via Family for what they did to hers.
“I’d gotten my Family killed because I’d loved a boy in secret who used that love to destroy me.”
I was spellbound by the plot of Assassin’s Heart, even if it was quite slow. I thought it an incredibly creative revival of a Shakespearean classic … but with assassins. When I first picked up the novel, I didn’t expect it to contain paranormal themes and the inclusion of the ghosts confused me for many pages. However, once the focus on religion is revealed, it makes total sense and was actually a central part of the storyline. The world-building was by far my favourite aspect of the novel and I found myself intrigued to learn more. While it’s somewhat unclear what culture Ahiers takes inspiration from, I suspect it is Italy, due to the names of many countries and cities. The nine ruling families that control Lovero resembled the power of the Medici family and the control they wielded over Renaissance Florence. I can’t be sure exactly what Ahiers was attempting, but this is the feel I received from the world of Lovero and I found it incredibly fascinating.
The beginning of the novel was incredibly enticing, but once Lea sets out on her own, the plot suddenly … dwindles and is left floundering in the wind like the proverbial embers Ahiers frequently made mention of. I found myself slightly bored by where the plot was going and I had to continually reread massive chunks of paragraphs that I glazed over. That was, in part, due to the writing, too. Again, the beginning of the novel was well written, but, as the plot stumbled, so did the writing skill. The novel suffered from a classic case of the reverse of show, don’t tell: Ahiers continually told the reader something, rather than allowing us to get there on our own. She would also end the occasional great paragraph by re-explaining something, unnecessarily.
“They dragged me to the noose as I struggled and kicked and tried to bite myself free of them. I would not go quietly!”
She does not need to tell us she is fighting, we are clearly reading that she is. That was a throwaway, unnecessary line of which there were many, which really affected my reading experience.
Lea was an adequate protagonist: I neither liked her nor disliked her. It was quite disappointing, to be honest, considering her entire family had just been murdered and I didn’t feel an emotional connection with her. I didn’t feel anything for her, really, especially as we progressed to the middle of the story. At the beginning, I thought she would be another badass YA protagonist that I could add to my Goodreads list. However, her skills as an assassin were severely lacking: she managed to get herself captured several times, people were continually sneaking up on her and she was even poisoned. There seemed to be a massive disconnection between her character at the start of the novel and her character in the second half. I just couldn’t believe that someone who is supposedly one of the best assassins in her family was constantly making “sloppy” mistakes.
“Seventeen years in Lovero and never once had anyone seen my face unless I’d wanted them to. And now, after only a short time in Yvain, some faker had seen me. My parents would’ve been ashamed.”
As for the other characters, the only one I actually liked was Les. He was such a sweetheart and I wanted to bundle him in my arms and give him a big hug. His background story was terribly sad to read and I found myself having a stronger connection with him than I did with Lea. Val, on the other hand, was a vain and obnoxious rich boy who represented the epitome of the modern sleaze. I was confused by the character of Lefevre and his inclusion in the plot of the story. He was a policeman investigating a string of murders, I understand, but his scenes just felt so forced and rushed, like they were only included because nothing else was happening, plot-wise. His character seemed to be resigned to showing up randomly and yelling “Ha, you’re caught now!” at Lea. I don’t think of him as the villain or a bad guy; he was just a nuisance.
Despite the disappointing middle, the ending of the novel almost reached the same level as the beginning and I began to enjoy the story once more, intrigued to see what would happen. There were two massive surprises at the end of the novel and Ahiers even managed to surprise me with one of them, and I usually see surprises coming from a mile away. The novel ended in a full circle: every plot-line had been tied up so I was especially surprised when I learned this would be a series. I can’t even begin to think what Ahiers would write on next for Lea, as I thought the ending of Assassin’s Heart was a satisfying one.
Will I be reading the next book in the series, then? Most likely not. While I really enjoyed the world-building and the initial plot (which is what is driving my rating), the writing was simply too elementary and the novel suffered heavily from a loss of focus.