Kara has achieved something that no Majat has ever managed – freedom from the Guild!
But the Black Diamond assassin Mai has been called back to face his punishment for sparing her life. Determined to join his fight or share his punishment, Kara finds herself falling for Mai.
But is their relationship – and the force that makes their union all-powerful – a tool to defeat the overpowering forces of the Kaddim armies, or a distraction sure to cause the downfall of the Majat?
*Blurb from Goodreads
Marlene: I loved this one even more than the first, Blades of the Old Empire (see today’s review at Reading Reality)
While I enjoyed the “split-screen” plots in Blades, where some of the action followed Prince Kyth and some King Evan, Guild works better (for me) because the action stays focused on one part of the epic story. This time around we follow Kyth and his attempt to ally with the Majat Guild. Also his unfortunate love life and the Guild’s massive change of perspective.
But even though the story follows Kyth, it really isn’t his story. It’s the assassins’ story, Kara’s and Mai’s, even though Kara’s love for Kyth is what initially sets things in motion…and occasionally messes things up.
E: Such a great read! *clears throat* Like Marlene I read and enjoyed Blades of the Old Empire, which I reviewed here. I am also going to agree with Marlene on this point as well. This second installment was even better! I enjoyed the split-screen Kashina used in her first installment because it was a great way to introduce the world and the variety of major characters. This one had a much tighter focus on the Assassins who despite their vaunted neutrality can be used and appear to have developed a schism. I have a soft spot for assassins so this made me pretty happy. I was also glad to see that Kyth would play a prominent role because I enjoyed getting to know his character in the first installment.
Marlene: This installment was so action-packed, that I couldn’t stop reading. At the same time, there is a huge dose of crazysauce, in a very excellent way. The world is going to hell in a handcart, and all the people who are responsible for keeping things on an even keel discover that it’s been going to pot for a lot longer than anyone thought. The evil Kaddim Brothers seem to have invisibly infiltrated every institution, include the Church and the Assassins. The good guys discover that the evil dudes have been privy to their greatest secrets for at least ten years.
And the story sets things up so that the only forces capable of stopping them, if they can manage an alliance, are headed by two young men who are both in love with the same woman. There are points where the force driving the story may just be a grand case of testosterone poisoning. And it’s awesome.
E: One of the things I really enjoyed about this installment is how Kashina addressed the elephant in the room, which was the relationship established in the first installment. She really showed both the power and the peril of love along with some of what it would take to really lead as a ruler, not just hold the name.
I loved seeing how much love was a factor. From the forbidden, to the wishful, to the improbable, to the impractical, to ideal, and even the love of power. Sacrifices were made, jealousy threatened, and the Empire almost lost on multiple occasions due to love yet that same love enabled otherwise impossible things to happen. On several occasions I was worried that the combination of relative youth, hormones, and emotional immaturity would result in an irreversible action or comment. Thankfully it wasn’t just Kyth, Mai, and Kara who were impacted by love but also some cooler heads who were able to intervene just enough to keep things going.
I will admit since it was on Twitter last night that at about the 74% mark I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to end read because the tension was built so high from the combination of action, discovering exactly how much was at stake, and how deep the corruption ran.
Marlene: Some of the best, craziest and tenderest moments revolved around forbidden love. Kyth loves Kara, even knowing that what they have can’t possibly have a future. Kyth is slated for a dynastic marriage, and it’s not just that Kara is assassin, but that she has no desire to squeeze herself into the proscribed role of “political wife”.
Mai loves Kara, but assassins of the Majat Guild are not supposed to have emotional relationships of any kind. Sex is fine, but love is not permitted. He’s sure they have no chance to be together.
Guildmaster Oden Lai has been the only father-figure that Kara has ever known. But his forbidden feelings for the woman she has become drive him to greater and greater abuses of power in order to “protect his authority”. He can’t see that he is just plain jealous, and that his feelings are being manipulated.
And then the situation gets even more twisted, but in a way that just invests the reader in the characters more.
E: Oh yes much more complicated. It was evident to any outside observer that the Guildmaster wasn’t quite in his right mind but he controlled the power and no one dared question him. Mai knew something was wrong and was prepared to sacrifice himself to make that point. Kara blamed herself for Mai’s upcoming death and vowed to go with or follow him to give him a chance to survive. Kyth caught between his love for Kara and his duty to his people had to lead a diplomatic embassy to attempt to high members of the Majat in the war for the Empire. And in the background all along were members of the Kaddim subtly and not so subtly influencing the other powers in the Empire.
I loved each reveal, each twist, and the tension between Mai, Kyth, and Kara as they struggled with their emotions and the impact of their position if they acted on those emotions. I also loved the inclusion of fatherly or motherly figures. The impression was never given that the adults or older generation were useless, they just weren’t necessarily the ones at the center of the physical action.
Marlene: You are so right about the use and purpose of parental-type figures in the story. I’ve said before that I really like that Kyth’s father isn’t dead at the start of the story. He’s still important even though he isn’t the focus of the action. Every character seems to have someone that they see as a parental or previous generation influence on their lives. Those people are still very vital and invested in the narrative, just not the center.
We have two heroes, Mai and Kyth. Kyth is the traditional prince-hero, and he’s an excellent example of the type. He really does want the best for his people, but he is relatively young and learning his powers. It’s ironic that the best person to teach him is his rival, Mai, who is simply so much better at everything than Kyth is. Their jealousy and resentment make it much more difficult to reach an accommodation with each other.
Mai is fascinating. He seems a bit too perfect in a lot of ways, and yet, he clearly has a difficult time controlling his anger and jealousy when it comes to Kara. She’s the chink in his very formidable armor. A chink that everyone seems determined to exploit in one way or another, and often without consulting Kara about whether she wants to be exploited.
E: As I was alluding to earlier with the tension it was very fascinating to watch the two young men struggle with putting their egos aside long enough to work together. It was as if each thought they knew the line the other would stop at when it came to negotiations especially if Kara was used as a tool. Instead Kara’s inclusion only seemed to make matters worse because of the undercurrents involving their reaction to her. Marlene put it perfectly when she described Kyth and Mai. They both had strengths and weaknesses with Kara at the centerpoint.
I will say I really enjoyed watching all three of them grow emotionally and as people during this series. I went from fearing the world was going to end to thinking they actually had a fighting chance. It wasn’t easy for any of them and seeing their individual struggle made it seem so much more valid and touching when their growth became apparent.
Marlene: Kara is the hinge-point for much of the drama. She’s a strong female character who has struck out on an unexpected path and is sometimes foundering. Her default mode is self-effacement and self-sacrifice, so she often gets in her own way. She’s never had the power to make decisions for herself, and doesn’t know what to do when Mai presents her with more options than she knows what to do with. It’s her nature to assume that she can’t have anything for herself.
She’s also an absolutely awesome heroine. not just because she’s physically strong and capable, but because she has a tremendous amount of agency and is totally (and very humanly) conflicted about what to do with it.
E: I so love Kara. As Marlene said she had several positive strong elements but she also wasn’t perfect. She never thought anything would happen with Mai or Kyth and really didn’t want to be caught in the middle. For those of you who are worried about a love triangle, everything gets resolved and Kara never bounces back and forth or tries to play one against the other. More reasons to explain why I enjoy her character so much.
I loved how she used Mai’s logic against him while he and Kyth were measuring parts of their anatomy against each other. She was able to keep Kyth’s spirits if not high at least not depressed while he struggled to master his gift. She also proved a sounding board for Mai and his plans once he realized she wasn’t going to give up. In addition I thought the way she reached out to Guildmaster Oden Lai really said a lot about who she was and how she thought of others. For a while I was afraid she was going to sacrifice any chance of her future happiness out of a lifetime of training to be in control and to channel all emotion into her fighting. It was great seeing her get a little nudge from someone outside of the situation who felt for all parties and wanted the best for them and the kingdom.
Marlene: Amen to the joy about avoiding the dreaded love-triangle. Kara’s reasons for her behavior make sense, and make the reader feel for her dilemma. She doesn’t bounce, she doesn’t play games, and she doesn’t waste inordinate amounts of time brooding about her overly complicated love life. But then, she didn’t expect to have a love life to brood over.
I was also afraid that she wasn’t going to get the happiness clue. The scene where the Magister hits her over the head with the cupid-shaped clue-by-four was a terrific use of the parental figure. It’s a good thing she did, because I think that both Mai’s and the kingdom’s future survival is going to depend on Kara being there.
Speaking of that future survival, as much as I loved this book the overall story is clearly NOT DONE. The kingdom is still going to hell in a handcart. The evil Kaddim Brothers are very much alive (again) and still plotting a return to their tyrannical ways.
While The Guild of Assassins definitely resolved some of the issues from Blades of the Old Empire, it also created a ton of bright shiny new issues. There HAS TO BE a book 3 in this series, but I haven’t been able to find an announcement of it.
That’s my one true grumble about this book. I NEED TO KNOW that the story will continue.
I give The Guild of Assassins an enthusiastic (if slightly frustrated) A.
E: This was a great second installment. It didn’t suffer from any of the unfortunately all too typical lags or filler material. This picked up shortly after Blades of the Old Empire ended and made it clear the long game was still in play. Kyth, Mai, and their associates have won another battle but as Marlene stated, things aren’t finished. Far too many people are still vulnerable to the powers of the Kaddim Brothers and there are still the impacts of their decades of planning and unseen moves to counteract. I have a theory that the elimination of those who can use magic was initiated under their influence. Something I hope to find out more information in a future installment **not so subtle hint about needing more installments.**
Like Marlene I am eagerly awaiting information about the third book because there is still SO much left unresolved.
I give The Guild of Assassins an A.