Monday 16 October 2023
CBR15 Book 59: "Daindreth's Assassin" by Elisabeth Wheatley
Rating: 4 stars
Amira was once a princess, but after her mother's clan of sorceresses were branded as traitors and banished, she was removed from the line of succession and now, thanks to a curse that forces her to obey her father's every command, she works for him as an assassin. Amira's sister is betrothed to the archduke, the next emperor, who is on his way to finalise the marriage agreement. Despite knowing that what she has to do amounts to high treason, Amira has no choice when her father sends her to kill the man. If she tries to fight the curse, she herself will die. Amira fails to kill Daindreth, the archduke, because he turns out to be possessed by a demon, which takes control and fights Amira. She only barely escapes, and has to admit her failure to her father.
Once Amira realises the archduke's dark secret, she is determined to stop her sister's wedding to the man, which turns out to be easier than she anticipated, as the archduke demands that Amira be the promised bride instead. For reasons unclear to both of them, it seems the demon inside Daindreth is pacified when she is near. He hopes this means she may help him fight and maybe break the demon curse somehow. In return, he promises to help her break her own curse - which conveniently transfers control over Amira to Daindreth the instant Amira's father signs her over to him as his bride.
Due to her curse, Amira now can't disobey any direct command Daindreth gives her, and hence can't fight him or escape, despite knowing about the demon inside him. He seems very wary of abusing his control over her, however, and never orders her to do anything that takes away her agency. The more she spends time in his company, the more she discovers what a good man he actually is. He desperately wants to be rid of the demon inside, and it doesn't take long before Amira is willing to risk her own life to save the man she was once going to kill.
About a month ago, I had never even heard of Elisabeth Wheatley. I was made aware of her existence because of a blog post by Ilona Andrews, highlighting some very funny Instagram videos she'd posted, and I immediately followed her for more amusing content. Ms. Wheatley does an excellent job promoting her books, and it took less than three weeks before I gave in and bought the first four books in the series, determined to find out more about this assassin sorceress and her softboi demon duke. The author herself promises that this is a book where the heroine doesn't need any rescuing, in fact she rescues both herself and her love interest, and that as opposed to the "Touch her and die!" trope that is so common in a lot of fantasy and romance novels, this is more of a "Touch HIM and die" story.
Amira is determined and capable and does her best to fight the curse that forces her to kill people at her father's bidding. She certainly doesn't expect to fall for the heir to the imperial throne, a demon-possessed man she was once sent to murder. While their engagement might seem like one of pure political expediency, time spent with Daindreth makes Amira gradually hope that their relationship might become something more than a marriage of convenience. As long as they actually rid Daindreth of the demon, of course. He more or less refuses to touch her otherwise, since even when the demon seems quiet, it still watches everything the archduke does.
It's not like Daindreth is completely useless, he just hasn't been trained in combat since he was very young. Being the heir to the throne, he's rarely ever alone. He does his best to be a good person, even though he's had to fight the demon inside him since he was eleven years old. Even though he's of age, his mother, the dowager empress, rules in the empire, as he is terrified of what will happen if the demon is given more power. Daindreth is pretty much always accompanied by Thadred, his cousin, who acts as the archduke's bodyguard, but also seems to see it as his sacred duty to sleep with as many ladies as possible. He finds Daindreth's decision to not only spare Amira's life, but to pick her as his fiancée, very confusing, but he and Amira learn to work together once he realises Amira also wants to protect the archduke.
There are four books out in the series so far and the fifth and final novel, Daindreth's Empress, will be out in January. By then, I will probably have caught up and finished the four I already own. These are by no means the best fantasy out there that I've read, but they're inventive and entertaining, and the curses that both Daindreth and Amira struggle with are based on the author's own battles with PTSD and anxiety, so they feel very visceral and real. I don't regret supporting this author, and based on her writing and excellent social media videos, wish her a lot of success.
Judging a book by its cover: I will freely admit that I don't think I would ever have picked up this book (or the sequels) based on the cover. This is a pretty generic fantasy cover, lady with a big sword and dark clothing. Still, it gives a certain impression of what the story is about.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read