Ruin of Stars

by Linsey Miller
First sentence: ”
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Others in the series: Mask of Shadows
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a lot of violence (but not overly graphic) and one tasteful sex scene (that’s more implied than anything). It’s still in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’m thinking about moving it.

When we left Sal, they had  just become part of the Queen of Igna’s right hand, taking up the mantle of Opal. But, since that moment, Igna is facing imminent war. Their neighbor, Erland — they of the restrictive gender norms and constricting policies, they who also wiped out Sal’s birth land — has invaded Igna, taking back some of the land they lost in the war ten years earlier. And Sal has  been asked to put a stop to all this by killing Erland’s leader and those who conspired against Igna. It’s easy for Sal to take this assignment: the names of the people coincide with the names on their list of people to exact revenge for wiping out their home and family.

The problem? The cost that assassinating these people and stopping the war is extremely high: costing Sal their friends, their love, and possibly their life.

This is a fantastic end to Sal’s story. Seriously. Miller’s got pacing and writes action incredibly well. I found myself getting anxious for Sal and their mission as I went through the book. I still think that Miller handled the fluidity incredibly well; it was part of the plot in that Erland’s culture was incredibly homophobic and suppressed anything that didn’t buy into traditional gender norms, and Miller was a bit heavy-handed with letting readers know that this was part of the reason Erland was the “bad” guys (though she makes a much more compelling case for readers to dislike people — or at least those in charge — from Erland later), but she settled into the plot and the book went super fast.

Incredibly exciting, and I really loved the ending. A strong series.

Mask of Shadows

by Linsey Miller
First sentence: “The thick, briny scent of sweat-soaked leather seeped through my cloth mask.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: August 29, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild swearing, one f-bomb, and lots of violence. I’m pretty sure it’s okay in the YA section (grades 6-8), though with a caveat for younger, more sensitive readers.

Sal Leon is  many things: a refugee from a war, of which they were the only survivor of their people. A thief. Ambitious. Reckless. And set on revenge for the lords who were responsible for the razing of their land. So when they come into the possession of an audition poster for the Queen’s Left Hand — a group of highly trained assassins in the service of the queen — Sal decides to take the chance. But little do they know that the trial is to the death, and that there will be many obstacles in their way.

Okay, so writing Sal as a they is a bit awkward, but since Sal is gender fluid — sometimes a she, sometimes a he, and sometimes a they, as Sal puts it — it makes it kind of difficult to describe. And yet, while the gender fluidity was part of the story (Sal was often annoyed when people didn’t get their gender; they did what they could to help people “get” it, but some characters were willfully obtuse), it wasn’t the whole story. There was so much more to love about the book.  Miller has a fantastic grasp of world building, giving us enough information to help us understand the world, but not going into long tangents about the history (though there is one attached at the end, if the reader is interested). There was magic in the world, but that was banished, which leaves for some intriguing subplots (and maybe some more exploration in the sequel?), but mostly this is a straight up survival book: Sal needs to survive the trials and become the new assassin if they want to enact revenge. It’s written in first person, and Sal’s life/head is a good place to be: they are smart, intuitive and a creative survivor. The book is also populated with a lot of fantastic secondary characters, from the servant Sal gets when they join the trials to the other members of the Left Hand. It’s a brutal book: in a trial to the death, there is bound to be people killed that the reader cares about. All that gives it heft, though, and shows that Miller’s not afraid to tell the story that needs to be told.

An excellent debut novel, and I can’t wait to read the sequel.