Author: Lizzy Ford
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Expected Date of Publication: 19th September, 2016
Page Count: 254 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
Seventeen year old assassin-in-training, Aveline, is ready to die rather than submit to her fate working in a brothel to repay her late father’s debts. On the night she tries to end her life, a stranger stops her and offers a proposition: a clean slate, in exchange for her agreement to become the guardian of a young woman she has never met. Leery of the assignment and the man behind it, Aveline has no other option but to accept the deal.
Aveline’s suspicion that something is off about the arrangement magnifies when she meets her new ward, Tiana Hanover, the daughter of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas. Expecting a pampered princess with an attitude, Aveline is surprised to discover Tiana is little more than a slave – and harboring a secret the wealthy Hanover’s cannot risk being revealed in two months, on Tiana’s eighteenth birthday.
Determined to keep the Hanover girl alive, Aveline must learn how to protect Tiana from the other Hanover’s or wind up dead alongside her ward.
I really wanted to like this one. Judging by the glowing reviews on Goodreads, this appealed to several other readers, but alas, I was not one of them.
The synopsis sounds fantastic – I love strong female protagonists, I love assassins, I love female friendship or mentor/protegee relationships. And I will say that the action scenes were a high point in this novel. But I found the title character so exasperating that it made this book a struggle to get through!
First, the positives. This is the first in the ‘Lost Vegas’ series – from the name, you can guess that the setting is a post-apocalyptic US, as opposed to an entirely new fantasy world, and there are hints throughout to support this with the limited availability of electricity in the pyramid structure inhabited by the wealthy elite (which has the word ‘Casino’ inscribed on its main floor). There isn’t any dense exposition outlining the precise details of the world these characters inhabit, just snippets here and there, so the reader can build up their own impression of the setting and do some educated guesswork to fill in the blanks.
My theory is some sort of nuclear apocalypse that affected the genetics of certain characters, given the unique mutation suffered by those like Tiana and the abilities that come with it. Because in fiction, radioactive fallout always leads to you developing amazing powers, it never just results in your hair and teeth falling out as you waste away in a slow painful agonizing death!
The plot was quite zippy and fast-paced, there was certainly no filler slowing down this book! There were a few genuinely disturbing scenes that unsettled me – the whole sequence in the brothel, for one. That was excellent suspenseful writing there, it was a bit more horrifying than some of the books I’ve read in the actual horror genre!
I liked that a few central mysteries and conflicts were addressed (even if not resolved) by the end instead of being dragged out, a couple shockingly so! Being a genre-savvy reader, I was confident of one character’s true loyalties lying elsewhere, but there were still a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming, which is always fun.
We also were treated to alternating POV chapters from the perspective of Tiana and her brother, Arthur. They were much easier to invest in – Tiana with her shy sweetness and Arthur’s fierce loyalty and courage. The sequels are titled Tiana and Arthur, so that’s encouraging. ^_^ I found their storylines a great deal more engrossing and their struggles more sympathetic than Aveline’s, so it’s good that the next couple books will focus more on these characters.
Now to the negative – Aveline. I understand that she’s a teenager and she’s not perfect, but instead of being realistically flawed, it was more that she was built up to be this amazing assassin with years of experience and training, but everything she said and did proved the contrary.
In the beginning, when she’s on the run and narrowly escapes capture with the aid of a stranger who helps her to scale a building to evade her pursuers…it’s not JUST that she is taken unawares and knocked unconscious by him that rankles, it’s that she disregards him to the point that ‘she had nearly forgotten the man who threw her the rope’ in favor of looking over the building at the men chasing her. Surely situational awareness should be the first lesson an assassin learns? Not to trust someone who helps you out of the goodness of their heart and always be suspicious of their motives?
Then when she’s infiltrated the pyramid as a slave, she ignores the spiel given by George who is her guide to this new society she’s completely unfamiliar with, because who needs to know the lay of the land? What value is there in learning the etiquette and mannerisms specific to her role? Nope, Aveline has no need for any local intel, instead her response is:
“I’m not here to pass as one of you,” she replied “I’m here to do what I do best.”
Well, no, because a) she’s ostensibly here to PROTECT someone, not assassinate them, and b) impersonating a slave is how she’ll carry out her mission, so half-assing that role and being thrown out is completely counter-productive!
This isn’t just brash impetuousness either, I could wave this conversation away as a reckless teen projecting an overconfident demeanor, except it’s not just bravado, she genuinely is terrible at undercover work and consistently betrays her true self despite the fact that ‘role playing was yet another skill children living in the streets mastered at a young age‘. Hmm, you wouldn’t know it from the way she absent-mindedly speaks to Tiana two seconds into her role as a MUTE slave, right after unrolling and examining her assassin’s kit of weapons right in front of her!
Maybe it’s not so bad that she accidentally revealed her true purpose to Tiana, at least her ward knows someone is looking out for her. But then Aveline continues to speak in front of other people, even though she’s notoriously Tiana’s mute slave. And George instructed her right from the start to keep her abilities a secret and not allow anyone to guess her role as Tiana’s bodyguard, they literally had an exchange where he told her:
“You must only act in defense and only use what force is necessary.”
“I can do that.”
Of course Aveline isn’t smart enough to just accept a few punches later on from another slave annoyed that Aveline was unfairly promoted ahead of those in line to ascend up the hierarchy, oh no, she needs to start a brawl that ends with TWO PEOPLE DEAD and the rest in need of serious medical attention. Because that’s keeping a low profile! Nobody will be suspicious about a slave with combat training!
But maybe it was just too hard for her to tamp down on her killer instincts when faced with people intent on doing her harm. Maybe I should cut her a break for lashing out first and thinking second. Only violence is her answer as a first resort rather than the last – because unnecessarily stabbing a merchant in the hand and proclaiming herself the Devil’s daughter when she’s out running errands as a slave from a well-known wealthy household is the best option!
Plus she goes on to deliberately defy Matilda in stupid insignificant matters like breaking open Tiana’s boarded-up window because who cares if the lady in charge of her employment is infuriated at this insolent act and tosses her out? OH, WAIT, Aveline’s future career, not to mention her BEST FRIEND’S LIFE, hangs in the balance!
And so on and so forth. There are numerous examples of Aveline being basically the worst assassin in history, completely belying her supposed training from a young age to succeed her father as leader of the guild of assassins. Unfortunately I have to mark her down as another of the Too-Stupid-To-Live leads that we see a lot of in this genre. >_<
Personal Rating: 2 out of 5 kitties.