Once upon a time, a girl met a dangerous boy, and showed him she was dangerous too. Once upon a time, a girl met a cursed boy, and they went on a great quest to break it. Once upon a time, a girl met a boy. Once upon a time, I read The Queen’s Assassin by Melissa de la Cruz, and I was drastically underwhelmed.
To be fair, de la Cruz’s latest novel would be great for someone who is new to Young Adult fantasy and hasn’t consumed enough of the genre to be too critical of a reader just yet. It is ideal for a young reader transitioning into the YA genre as a whole, in fact. To others, however, who have read their fill of similar stories in the fantasy genre, the plot might seem trite as opposed to exhilarating, and the romance exhausting as opposed to endearing.
Our first protagonist, Shadow, strives to become a guild member, and eventually, an assassin for her kingdom, Renovia. She admires the revered Caledon Holt, the Queen’s Assassin, who is the greatest good-hearted murderer to ever live. While we love a good antihero, the book doesn’t quite deliver on that. (Are we saying that killing for a living hasn’t screwed up the dude a bit more than shown in the story?) When Caledon is sent on a special mission by the queen, his first stop is a jail cell, from which he is prematurely freed by Shadow, who is all too eager to declare herself his apprentice after following through on a half-hearted, half-planned rescue mission that was foiled almost before it began.
From there, the story meanders through a very basic plot, adorned with what I’ve long viewed as a basic writing faux pas. The amount of times a character states what they’ll do before they do it is mind boggling. In the same vein, the writing style seemed almost cartoonish, especially when it came to certain events or images that might need describing. Unrealistic visuals are a serious turn off for me. Even then, it’s not just the visuals. The content lends to a lack of realism, with so much of the violence and hardship glossed over in a way that reminds me of a middle-grade novel.
As for the characters themselves, nothing about them stuck out to me, really. I didn’t have a strong opinion on them, and I suppose that could be due to Cal’s distanced third person POV, or Shadow’s fairly obvious “secret,” which keeps us from knowing too many specifics about her past, but I wish the author had made them just a bit more interesting to read. One thing I will say is I appreciate that despite her constraints, Shadow was a (somewhat) active character, which I always appreciate, though said activeness is largely present during the first part of the novel. Sadly, this is dimmed by the secondary characters, who were similarly uninteresting, with the slight exception of the Duke and Duchess. The first twist regarding their characters was actually rather interesting, especially as I didn’t see it coming.
With regards to relationships, is it just me, or is the romance irredeemable in this novel? I searched for a single ounce of chemistry between the two protagonists, only to find a desert full of tumbleweeds. It’s flat, forced, and there’s somehow barely any communication between them in regards to it, which is always frustrating in novels. I get that it’s intended to build up that “will-they won’t-they” tension, but there isn’t a great reason for it plot-wise.
Now, I didn’t start reading with the intent to dislike The Queen’s Assassin. I was actually really excited for it, as I love anything to do with assassins and spycraft, which is why it was such a let down, as my biggest disappointment in the novel was how little of that there really was. Sure, Cal trained his mentee in seduction (so! much! potential!) for a page or two. Yes, they crafted new identities (on the spot, mind you), which worked purely due to luck. Yet, the story seemed to emphasize their potential relationship more than their vocation, which really dampened the whole conceit of the novel.
Sadly, there is nothing “sweeping” about The Queen’s Assassin. It’s another average YA fantasy in a long line of them attempting to capitalize on the current fantasy-royalty trend. All that being said, if you’re seeking a light-hearted, surface-level read, and haven’t yet read much YA fantasy, I wouldn’t recommend against it. I just won’t be reading the sequel.