Publication Date: September 27, 2022
After the destruction of her entire Talon gang, eighteen-year-old Shin Lina—the Reaper of Sunpo—is forced to become a living, breathing weapon for the kingdom’s most-feared crime lord. All that keeps her from turning on her ruthless master is the life of her beloved little sister hanging in the balance. But the order to steal a priceless tapestry from a Dokkaebi temple incites not only the wrath of a legendary immortal, but the beginning of an unwinnable game…
Suddenly Lina finds herself in the dreamlike realm of the Dokkaebi, her fate in the hands of its cruel and captivating emperor. But she can win her life—if she kills him first.
Now a terrible game of life and death has begun, and even Lina’s swift, precise blade is no match for the magnetic Haneul Rui. Lina will have to use every weapon in her arsenal if she wants to outplay this cunning king and save her sister…all before the final grain of sand leaks out of the hourglass.
Because one way or another, she’ll take Rui’s heart.
Even if it means giving up her own.
I was really looking forward to this one because it sounds amazing. I love reading books grounded in other cultures’ mythologies, and Korean mythology is one I haven’t really had much experience with. The cover is gorgeous and promises a magical fantasy adventure. The synopsis brings to mind stories like Six of Crows. Sadly, the execution fell far short.
The writing could use some polishing. Everything is described endlessly, using the biggest words possible and five where one would do. It’s sprinkled lavishly with curse words that just feel unnecessary. I’m all for cursing, just, it has to make sense. Our ‘living breathing weapon’ and skilled assassin of an mc just isn’t. She reads much younger than the stated 18, is constantly getting herself in trouble with her impulsive actions (partially forgiveable because of trauma), and never actually does any killing or shows any skill, only talks about how awesome she is at it or gives a brief overview of things she’s done in the past. The closest she gets to showing her skill is entering a building and opening a chest. And not even a human chest, before you ask. Like. That’s about as much effort as she puts into the ‘steal the priceless tapestry’ escapade. Walk in, notice the dust, info dump a bit, open the chest, walk out. Mission complete. (yawn.)
She doesn’t get along with any of the other women. An awfully lot of time is spent describing how she started / continued smoking. Yes, this leads into memories of her trauma from her family dying but… it’s still sort of weird and abrupt.
The first-person present tense is my least favorite to read but it can be done well. Sadly, I did not find that to be the case here. She just reads as annoying. Also the moment she described her “shit-eating grin” I knew it was not going to improve. And it didn’t.
The instant the eventual love interest enters the scene you can clock him as the love interest. He might as well come with a flashing neon sign proclaiming it. If the detailed description of his appearance wasn’t enough, there’s the bad boy sarcastic sense of humor and the enigmatic interaction and disappearance. Like what even was the point except to go ‘hey, love interest here!’?
The narrator was ok, although her male voices were not very believable and her reading of the main character made her seem younger than she was supposed to be. I maybe enjoyed her performance less than I would have enjoyed reading the text as I was unable to skim the info-dump-y bits or the places where the descriptions dragged on.
I do think that anyone who loves Sara J. Maas’ romances – ACOTAR especially – will probably love this. It seems to be much more focused on the romance with the fantasy used more as set dressing. It also gives major ACOTAR vibes which could be part of why I reacted so negatively to it – I enjoyed ACOTAR initially but hearing about it over and over in facebook book groups and spending some time reflecting on it lowered my enjoyment of the series dramatically.
After thinking some more about what it was that didn’t work for me here, I think I’ve figured out why I was so disappointed with this book. The cover, narrator’s voice, and initial writing of the main character all led me to believe this would be a middle-grade fantasy adventure with the narrator being around 11-12 years old. So the swearing and the smoking felt really jarring when I encountered them, because they definitely wouldn’t be in a middle-grade book. And then it took a hard turn into fantasy romance with some major ACOTAR vibes which my initial impression of middle-grade fantasy did NOT prepare me for.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Recorded Books for providing an audio arc for review.