Rating: 4 stars
Calaena Sardothien may only be 18 years old, but she is already renown as the Assassin of Ardarlan and left to rot the rest of her life away as a prisoner in the salt mines of Endovier. She was only 8 years old when Arobynn Hamel, the King of Assassins, found her abandoned by a frozen river, raising and training her to become the most feared assassin.
Calaena finds an unexpected route to freedom from her prison when she is approached by the Crown Prince Dorian and the captain of his guard, Chaol Westfall. Act as the prince’s champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin and earn her freedom if she wins. Return to prison if she loses.
Training under an alias so as not to tip off the other competitors and reveal her true abilities, Calaena becomes close with both Dorian and Chaol, and they get to know her as more than just an assassin but as the young woman who has been forced to hide behind her reputation for so long.
What I liked about this book is that it evolves into more than what it initially seems. It starts off as a competition for assassins with Calaena as the only female competitor, but then a romantic triangle story line develops around Calaena, Dorian, and Chaol. Then it turns into a mystery when other competitors start being killed off in a very brutal way. Calaena starts seeing mysterious symbols that are related to magic, but magic has been banned from the kingdom, so what do they mean and are they related to the murders?
Calaena is a very well-developed character. She is tough and an assassin, because that is how she was raised to be. It is not a life that she had chosen. She is smart and has a love of books, which reminded me of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She is beautiful but doesn’t flaunt it, although others definitely take notice. She is conflicted about her feelings for Dorian and Chaol and tries to understand them and their feelings.
Dorian and Chaol are both likable in their very different ways. Dorian may be the prince and Chaol his guard, but they grew up together and are close adding more conflict in the Calaena, Dorian and Chaol triangle.
There are other characters who play their parts in this story and help flesh it out to make this a very wonderful story of a strong young woman who proves her self-worth.