Death Sworn by Leah Cypress

Death Sworn by Leah CypressDeath Sworn by Leah Cypess
Published by HarperCollins on March 4th 2014
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 352
Buy on Amazon

When a young sorceress is exiled to teach magic to a clan of assassins, she will find that secrets can be even deadlier than swords. Teen Vogue proclaimed, "It's impossible not to fall deep into the dark yet alluring world of sorcery and secret assassins." A dangerous and eerie fantasy about murder, shocking discoveries, and fiery star-crossed romance that readers of Cinda Williams Chima and Robin LaFevers won't be able to put down.
Ileni is losing her magic. And that means she's losing everything: her position as the rising star of her people, her purpose in life, and even the young man she loves. Sent to the assassins' cave hidden deep within the mountains, she expects no one will ever hear from her again. The last two sorcerers sent died within weeks of each other. Accidents? Or something more sinister? As Ileni navigates the dangers—both natural and human—of the caves, she'll discover secrets that have been kept for decades. And she'll find an ally in Sorin, the deadly young man who could be the assassins' next leader. With Sorin determined to protect her, sparks—magical and romantic—will fly. But will even he understand the choice she must make in the end?

“She might be about to die, but she didn’t have to do it cowering.”

3 1/2 stars. I must admit – I didn’t really expect to like Death Sworn. I’ve had my eye on it for a while but many of my GR friends didn’t like it, especially with the limited world-building.
And I have to say that it doesn’t fit into what I would normally expect from YA fantasy. There are certain elements of the genre that pop up again and again, and we expect them in order to consider the book “good” – kingdom/empire in peril, or reclaiming of a kingdom, magic (banned or otherwise), rich world-building that paints a vivid picture of this foreign land – and Death Sworn doesn’t really meet our expectations of the genre.
Weirdly, though, that’s exactly why I liked it. I liked the unusually small scope of the novel – indeed, the whole story takes place in an underground cave and we see nothing of the outside world. I liked how it felt more like a murder mystery with magic than every other YA fantasy out there.
Most of all, however, I loved Ileni. I thought she was a fantastic protagonist – smart, cynical, resourceful, but also flawed and human. So many fantasy heroines these days feel like snark-wielding cardboard cutouts. But Ileni was relatable, as well as badass. And I love the scene where she gets drunk and makes a fool of herself.
Ileni is a sorceress but her magic has slowly been failing her. When the Elders of her village send her to be a magic tutor to secret assassins, Ileni knows it’s because she’s expendable. After all, the last two tutors died under mysterious circumstances. She must be careful to hide her failing powers, stay alive, and also discover what really happened to the two previous tutors before her time runs out.
In this strange underground academy, many of the characters are strong and developed in interesting ways, even the ones that appear briefly. There is a budding romance, of course, but there is absolutely no instalove and the characters know that other things are far more important than romantic relationships.
Given the ending, I’m expecting more world-building and a better explanation of the magic system in the next book. There will be no more excuses for it. However, I enjoyed Death Sworn very much and I LOVE the ending. I didn’t guess the answers AND that whole second-to-last scene was perfection.
I look forward to following Ileni into Death Marked.

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