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Death Marked | Thoughts

3 Stars only because I can't give a book with a good concept AND good writing less than that. But I am not happy.

We started with Death Sworn learning the ways of the Assassin's, finding the good in Sorin and delving into Ileni's personal struggles as she comes to grip with the fact that she is losing her natural born power, and once gone how she lost the sense of who she is. In Death Marked, we get to see the side of the Empire, learn that even an enemy's side has good people who are fighting for what they truly believe in, and further explore Ileni's personal and outward battles.

All of that sounds great to me, and thinking back, it was. I loved the book. Why so unhappy, then? I'll start with...

*Spoilers abound...there's really no way to avoid them with this one.*

The Bigger Picture

There are the Renegai, who use only natural magic they are born with and believe in peace and healing. There are the Assassins, who believe killing for a greater good is justified, and have a wavering peace with the Renegai. Then there is the Empire, a common enemy, who also have no qualms over killing innocents for the greater good--in their case to supply lodestones with magic in order to empower both their natural sorcerers and those with no power of their own. The war between them has been raging 400 years, and on either side the deaths they cause are working towards a better future, where the other does not exist.
Through the course of Death Sworn and Death Marked, we are given insight to both sides, and just as Ileni must, we must weigh the options of which is truly the worse path to walk. I'll get to that in a moment, and for now focus on the main issue for everyone--the war.
Who's going to win? Who's going to sacrifice the most to bring about a victory? Will Ileni be able to help or hinder either side--will she want to?
We won't find out, because this sequel/conclusion resolves nothing. Every thing is left hanging in limbo.

Ileni's Inner Struggle

Ileni is Renegai, once the most powerful sorceress of her people, now powerless and expected to become the greatest weapon of the Assassins. For as long as she can remember, her power and skill have been what define her--she was the best, the most skilled at the craft of magic. And now her magic is gone, she has lost her sense of self. Desperately trying to hold on to her beliefs as a Renegai even as the access to magic in the Empire let her feel the thrill of being strong again, her inner turmoil is fleshed-out well and I enjoyed exploring her character. Cypess rambles on sometimes, and Ileni's self-doubt and self-righteousness get a little redundant, but the questions we ask alongside her are necessary as she rediscovers herself as not a sorceress, but as a human being faced with terrible choices.
Ileni's character development is the only area I'll concede is somewhat rounded out. She's grown since we first met her, but her morals are left shaky at best at the end. Has she truly turned away from the lure of the lodestones, when each instance she needs to use them is "justified"? Doesn't this just make her the same as Sorin, and Karyn, and Absalm, and Cyn...to justify the means because of the end? Not to mention the rush of pure joy she gets from filling the emptiness her own magic used to encompass within her...No, I think we only saw the beginning of her resistance to using death magic, and she probably will still find herself succumbing to the temptation sometimes to draw on the lodestones. But, we won't find out, because this is what we're left with:

"Because this, as it turned out, was her destiny. Not to be the powerful sorceress her people had been waiting for, not to be the ruthless killer the assassins needed. Her destiny was to save one person at a time, change things one tiny step after another."


"There would be no great choices to make, no moments when everything would change."

Call me crazy, but that's kind of why we read these stories, isn't it? To experience everything this book left dangling unfinished?

The Love Interests

"Out of sight, out of mind" sums up the love interests in this series.

As much as I roll my eyes at love triangles, if done well I really don't mind them so much. Here, I was fully on board for a love-quad since it seemed set up to be about emotional connections, and strength of beliefs and morals vs. who was sexiest.

In Death Sworn we knew Ileni had left behind her Renegai love, Tellis. Okay, that's fine - she's learning there are different people out in the great big world and Sorin is our perfect Assassin to teach her love can be more complicated than if all your beliefs and goals align perfectly. Now Ileni's setting has changed to the Empire, enter Evin the Imperial Sorcerer and we have yet another excellent option at a love interest. I loved all three as options for her. Tellis, though he ultimately chose their people over her, was her comfortable and safe love. Sorin, her dangerous love that challenges all she knows and believes in and pushes her to limits she didn't think she could reach. Evin, a gracious mix of both who is a natural sorcerer and kind man with no desire to fight and kill for the Empire. Man, I was ready to really get behind Evin in a third book where all the relationships could be fully fleshed out and proper closure had.

Alas, change of location really is the only thing needed for her to let go, which I could have accepted in the case of Tellis, being she has changed now she's seen for herself how complicated the Assassin's and Empire really are. But to conveniently drop Sorin in the same way just because we have a new entry to focus on in Death Marked... *shakes head*

"Now she was no longer the girl who had loved Tellis so uncomplicatedly and wholeheartedly."

"The emptiness in her chest was even worse than the ache of lost magic. But Ileni reached through it and clung to the memory of how she had stood here earlier, looking at Tellis and feeling nothing. If she had felt that way about Tellis, one day she would feel that way about Sorin, too."

Not. Good. Enough.

All of this and more reasons why this book simply makes no sense as a conclusion.

"'But it's all going to be the same, for a very long time. The sorcerers will have all the power, and the assassins will eventually regather and start attacking again...and I haven't made a difference at all.'"

Well, that's glum, but that basically sums up this book. The war is no further along for her struggles, and we have no idea how it may end one distant day.

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Virginia DeFeo