I received an ARC of this work.
Wow, am I enjoying this series. It is an amazing fantasy read with a fantastic sense of humour and a gritty realism that is borderline impossible to ignore. I cannot add it to my library which is exclusively for junior high students (and this is definitely an adult read), but I am going to bully all of my friends into reading this.
Mia Corvere is the daughter of a rebel and the rest of her family was slaughtered during the attempted coup. She was rightfully upset and decided to spend the rest of her life getting revenge on the main figures in charge of the executions of her mother, father and brother. Since they are all very highly placed in the government, it will not be a simple job, but there is a group of highly trained assassins who do take on apprentices. In the first book, Mia manages to make it through the training and become accepted into the ranks of killers. The second book begins with her starting on her final path to retribution.
The winner of a gladiatorial contest is congratulated, in person and unarmed, by one of her targets. To enter, Mia must sell herself into slavery and be purchased by a noble house that wants to compete. Then she just has to kill every other contestant in an Ancient Romanesque bloodbath. Being a trained combat expert will help, but she will not be given her choice of weapon and is still just one girl.
For those who loved Hunger Games and Red Rising for their life or death combat scenes and action, this reads quite similarly. You have a smaller crew of distinct characters that form relationships and temporary alliances, knowing that all friendships and bonds are going to end by having to kill each other later. As a reader you are always on your toes, never really knowing who is going to die next and who is going to stab whom in the back.
What really sells this series, though, is how funny life and death, betrayal and blood can get in the imagination of a skilled author. The text is peppered with hilarious footnotes that have a Terry Pratchett/ Jonathan Stroud sarcasm and wit to them. It gives you a breath of fresh air between battles and eviscerations.
The book reads a lot like Scott Lynch, in that you have a great combination of funny and serious fantasy without the character having to save the world. So much of our science fiction and fantasy has the plot revolving around saving the entire planet/universe/species. It is rarer to find one where the protagonist is trying to do something personal. It may have larger political implications (in this case murdering the head of a country), but that is not the main focus. Mia just wants his head. The collapse of the state thanks to her actions is not a concern of hers. She is self-absorbed enough to not care about the wider fallout of her plans. She wants what she wants and that is as far as her attention really goes.
It is also very refreshing to see such a bloodthirsty character. Too much of YA has characters that want to do what is right and make sacrifices for love/saving something. Mia is just ignoring friendships and people and love and cutting down everything in her path. It makes it a more interesting read to not be guaranteed the actions that other characters might make. Mia might choose to kill a friend or screw somebody over or she may not. Her vicious nature makes her harder to predict.
I adore this series. It was really hard to put down and I was alternatively giggling and close to tears. A must-read.