assassin coverRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Kit was sent across the sea on a mission to kill Prince Talal, the heir to the sultanate of another nation. Kit isn’t totally sure why Talal must die, he just knows it is what the religious Paters have deemed necessary, and Kit is determined to do his duty. However, despite all his study about Talal and the Sudharainian court, Kit isn’t finding it is as easy to kill the emir as he expected. Kit feels a surprising attraction to the man and is drawn to him in a way that makes him wish it wasn’t necessary to see him dead. Talal seems attracted to Kit in return, so Kit figures if he can seduce Talal, it may be a way to get close enough to find a way to kill him. Unfortunately, Kit has no experience even kissing a man, so seducing one isn’t going to be an easy task.

The plan goes awry quickly, however. First, Kit finds himself unable to kill Talal. Second, Talal insists that the men are soulmates, brought together by god. Soulmates are each other’s perfect match and god gives them a special gift, such as powers of healing. Kit thinks the idea is absurd; his people do not believe in the idea of soulmates and he is much more willing to believe his new ability is all some sort of sorcery rather than god’s will. But now that Kit’s assassination attempts have been unsuccessful and he has resigned himself to the idea of failure, he knows he can’t go home and admit defeat, so Kit sees no choice other than to accept the partnership with Talal. While Talal is thrilled to have found such a boon as a soulmate, Kit isn’t quite as happy about the situation. The biggest hurdle, however, is that while the men share an intense attraction, they don’t really like each other all that much, despite the fact that they are now meant to be mates.

Kit and Talal finds themselves at constant odds with one another, which means they end up staying away from each other a lot of the time. While Talal is busy with the job of governance, Kit is more at loose ends and begins to explore the city. When he encounters a young girl being threatened, Kit comes to her defense and learn her aunt was trying to sell her into slavery. Kit is appalled to learn this is going on and determined to get to the bottom of of it. It is a frustrating process, as there are few answers to show who is behind the child smuggling ring. As Kit gets closer to truth about what is going on, he and Talal finally begin to find that emotional connection that has been missing from their bond. With Talal at his back, Kit is determined to stop the child smugglers, but finding a way to catch them isn’t going to be easy.

Assassin by Katy Haye is the first book in the Prince’s Soulmate series and my introduction to this author. I was intrigued by the cover and the blurb, which pretty much had me from this line: Kit knows a hundred ways to kill a man, but since he’s never even been kissed, he has no idea how to begin a seduction… Unfortunately, the story doesn’t really quite deliver on what is promised in that regard. There were also a lot of world building questions that were not addressed. However, I did find myself generally enjoying the story overall.

The book opens with Kit arriving at Sudharainian court, ostensibly as an emissary for his country in celebration of Talal’s birthday, but really there to kill him. And honestly, this introduced a lot of questions without any answers. The overall political situation here is pretty vague, but we know the men are from two different countries separated by water, and they worship the same god, but have widely different religious practices. We also know that Kit has been sent on this quest by the Paters (religious elders, presumably) who want the emir dead. So it seems reasonable to assume they want him dead for religious reasons, but even Kit doesn’t actually know why he is supposed to kill Talal, other than he has been told to do it and he believes in following orders. So even if we assume murder based on religious extremism, why does Talal specifically need to die (versus someone else)? Just because he is a different religion than Kit’s people? So is just about everyone in his country. And if not religion, why? We are given no indication at all. Yes, Talal is the heir, but the sultan is still alive and Talal has an heir of his own in his sister. So even if they get rid of him, there are still plenty of other people to do the job. So it all just feels incredibly vague for the action that incites the major story controversy. Also, while this subplot drives the early action in the book, it is clear very early on that any attempts at assassination have failed for various reasons (some are spoilers, so I won’t get into it here). This means after being sent there by his country to assassinate the emir, Kit doesn’t actually kill Talal, then never talks to anyone from his homeland again, and story totally drops the whole assassination plot. Isn’t anyone from Kit’s homeland wondering what happened when they don’t hear about Talal’s death? Isn’t there still a threat that since Kit failed, someone else will come to try to kill Talal instead? Again, this is the inciting action for the entire story, but there is very little explanation and then it all just fades away as a plot point early on. As an unrelated issue connected to world building, another thing unaddressed is that they refer to people from Kit’s land as “Exiles” and from Talal’s as “Adventurers” with zero explanation as to why or what the means. It is the strangest thing, because I read that entire story and I still couldn’t even begin to explain why they are called that. The terms are just used with no explanation.

After the early section focused on the failed assassination, the main portion of the book is then focused on the fact that Talal and Kit are soulmates, but while they are hot for each other, they don’t really like each other. Talal is thrilled to find his soulmate, something that had been foretold. He has been waiting for this person to appear in his life, knowing it will be his perfect match. Then he meets Kit, who wants to kill him. Even as they move past that, the men are so different, and their customs and religious practices are so different that they really aren’t able to find a way to relate to one another or find common ground. Both are confident that their own way is the right way, and neither are particularly good at opening their minds up to the other’s ideas. Talal tends toward the imperious, forgetting to treat Kit as a partner and not a subject. And Kit is uncertain about opening himself up to Talal, too entrenched in his beliefs to feel confident in their connection. Neither man is particularly compassionate or understanding toward one another at the start, but they slowly come together. We see each man find someone to talk to about what is going on and get some guidance, which they then take to change for the better. I appreciated that we see growth and change from both men and they ultimately make an effort to understand each other and reach out to one another. So while they frustrated me at times, I like the way they move together over the course of the story.

Alongside the personal side of things between the men, the other main focus of much of the book is the child slavery ring. Kit encounters a girl who tells him of the slavers, but getting evidence is hard. Kit spends a lot of time in the city trying to uncover what’s going on, which also gives him a chance to explore a little. I enjoyed seeing more details about life in the city, particularly the section of town where many immigrants from Kit’s country live. He also meets some new friends and I think it rounds out the story nicely to take us out of the palace and give some larger world building elements. We get some exciting moments where Kit and Talal work together to stop the slavers (even if I had to suspend disbelief that the royal heir is allowed to wander so freely and put himself at such risk). I think that overall this subplot worked and added some interesting elements to the story, but it really fell apart for me at the end in a frustrating way. I’m going to try to explain as much as possible without spoilers, but some of this is behind spoiler tags because it gives away some detail on how it all wraps up. Before I go too far, let me note that it is a specific plot point that Talal is revamping the legal/judicial system to make it more fair, so that the wealthy and powerful can’t get away with things while the poor are punished. So first off, when we learn who is behind the plot, it felt out of nowhere and sort of random. Then, Talal ends up punishing not just the head of the child slavery ring, but the person adjacent to them for failing to realize what was going on. Which absolutely didn’t sit well with me and seemed both unreasonable and grossly unfair to hold someone accountable for someone else’s actions that they knew nothing about.

Spoiler title
If I commit a crime, it is not my husband’s fault for failing to properly monitor and “guide” me.
Then, despite all this talk about the importance of an egalitarian legal system, Talal completely and totally contradicts that by allowing the person who is SELLING CHILDREN INTO SLAVERY
Spoiler title
almost completely off the hook. Instead of real punishment, they get to go home with their spouse to reflect on their misdeeds and change their ways or some nonsense. So basically zero punishment.
It just undermined all we are told about Talal caring about his people and working to ensure justice for everyone.

Ok, a few other things of note. This may be clear from my review, but this story leans into the religious themes, as both Kit and Talal have strongly held beliefs that are often in conflict with one another. It is never stated outright, but these seem to be loosely veiled Christian and Muslim religions and pretty clearly European versus Middle Eastern type races. Kit is so pale and blond he “looks like an angel” according to Talal’s sister. Kit and his countrymen pray to the “Almighty,” their religious leaders are Paters (similar to “Fathers”), and all sex stuff is a sin (including homosexuality). Oh, and apparently they want to kill people who are of a different religion. Talal has darker skin and hair and lives in a country that is hot and dry. He refers to things like drinking alcohol as “haram,” a real-world term for things that are forbidden for Muslims. I could go into more details, but you get the idea. So these guys both have strongly held religious beliefs that not only guide their own lives and morality significantly, but also put them at odds with one another. This isn’t necessarily good or bad from a story perspective, but I just want to note that this story has a strong religious focus, though not officially real world religions. As far as content warnings, there are a few. The book has some pretty gory violence early on, though after that it settles down. There is also a scene of attempted suicide and one where a character considers rape. The author notes both of these at the front of the book, including how to best skip these sections if desired.

I do also want to note that I really enjoyed Talal’s younger sister, who is his heir and a totally great character. She is strong and smart and confident, but also appropriately feels like a teenage girl. I enjoyed seeing her develop a friendship with Kit and she added a nice element to the story. I also appreciated seeing Talal’s mother show up to advise him (and for him to listen) as he struggles with his relationship. So I enjoyed having a couple of strong female characters here.

This is the start of the series and it looks like things will continue with Kit and Talal as leads. It seems like the next book further explores the idea of soulmates, something that was one of the more interesting parts of this book to me, so despite having some issues with the story, I’d consider continuing on with the series.

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