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Aveline (Lizzy Ford)

(Captured Press, 2016)

Aveline ticked all the right boxes: a fantasy novel (series, really), with a complex female main character who is no damsel in distress. In fact, Aveline is an assassin in training, expected to follow in the footsteps of her father and take over as head of the Assassins’ Guild some day. But after he dies following an illness, she is in danger of being carted away to the brothel to repay his debts. She is rescued by a mysterious stranger who offers her a way out—it’s not ideal, but at least she will escape the brothel if she says yes.

Her new assignment takes her to the prosperous Inner City, where the wealthy reside inside a giant pyramid-town in opulent luxury, where her assignment is to protect the ‘deformed’ daughter of one of the most powerful families of the land. But why exactly Tiana, her ward, is in danger, and what the stakes are is anybody’s guess, as is figuring out who the enemy is. Going undercover as a slave, Aveline’s biggest headache is not just keeping the girl alive, but also maintaining her cover and keeping the side of her that’s touched by the Devil in control.

This is a fantastic story, with a great main character. Lizzy Ford has also created a—pardon the repetition—fantastic world, one in which the chasm between the haves and have-nots is so vast that each is barely aware of how the other half lives. The setting, the city of Lost Vegas, hints at an alternate-reality post-apocalyptic US, and the interspersing of natives and the concept of ‘half-breeds’ makes it a deliciously complex society.

But life is ruthless. It is where the rich know they are entitled to own and abuse the less fortunate, where cutthroat competition for power prevails, where a ruthless Shield enforces discipline among the people with violence, where children are sold to brothels for the use of men and women who can pay for it, where unwanted children are butchered for meat. And where highly-trained assassins are in demand.

Aveline is a strong main character, but she’s not perfect. She is about seventeen and her final test stands between her and a full assassin status. However, the death of her father puts a sudden halt to her training and a question mark on her future. What was particularly interesting was her—as well as other assassins’—complete lack of remorse for what they are trained to do, that is, kill. Killing is a business and a way of life. A contract to kill is a binding one for the assassin, and the guild, in fact, commands considerable respect and standing in society. That isn’t to say that the assassins don’t have a code of honour, one that Aveline is called upon to question as the motives of people around her are revealed.

This is a well-written story, but what causes it to be awkward at times is the frequent trip-up in tenses, especially in the first third of the book. The author mixes up past tense and past perfect tense in numerous places. The other niggle was the incorrect use of apostrophes: ‘the Hanover’s’ was repeatedly used where ‘the Hanovers’ was the right way to say it. Since this happened throughout the book, it was clearly not a typo. However, I read a review copy and hopefully the editorial glitches will be cleared up in the final release.

Aveline is a short novel, a novella, rather. It ends on a sort of cliffhanger, which keeps it from being a complete story and you have a sense of things being cut off in the middle. One wishes it weren’t so, but then I am keen to read the next in the series. Finally, the cover: it is quite unispired and completely underserves the book.

(Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy.)

RATING: 7.5/10