There’s definitely been a surplus of kick-ass young women in YA fiction recently, and it’s a pretty great thing to see. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Kyra, this newest addition, will go down equal to the likes of Katniss, Hermione, and Tris. Markswoman, the first in a new series by Rati Mehrotra, pulls heavily from Indian culture and folklore to create a potentially fascinating world of fantasy, strange and unexplained technology, and female assassins. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite gel.
Kyra Veer has been among the Order of Kali for almost her entire life, ever since the members of her clan were brutally murdered by the warlord Kai Tau when she was five years old. As she has trained to become a Markswoman, one of five orders of assassins, her goals have been one – to make her mentor and second mother, Shirin Mam (the leader of the Order of Kali), proud of her, and two – to destroy Kai Tau. But when the women and novices are away from their home during a festival, Shirin Mam is murdered, and Tamsyn Turani, the Order’s mental arts expert and teacher, takes control and tries to take the former leader’s katari, a telepathically linked dagger possessed by all sworn Markswomen. Now aged nineteen, Kyra manages to take the katari and escape through something called a Hub, a strangely technological place full of doors to who-knows-what, emerging near the one Order of Marksmen, the Khur.
Once with the Order of Khur, Kyra meets Rustan, a skilled but troubled Marksman, and his more goofy buddy, neither of whom has really much time with women in the course of their lives. Of course, this is setting up the dreaded romantic triangle – easily the most unsuccessful part of this book. Kyra is dealing with the death of her mentor/mother-figure, and the upcoming fight to save her Order – why in the world would this be time for a romance? There is no chemistry between any of these three, even though the author tries with a thought from Kyra: “Why had he kissed her? Why had it hurt so much when he stepped away from her and left the room?” I find it hard to believe that any of the characters, even though they are nineteen or twenty years old, would think this is a good time for a kiss.
And speaking of nineteen or twenty – the characters all read much younger than that. I find it hard to believe that, even for novice student assassins who’ve lived with their Order from childhood, they would have absolutely no idea about what the rest of the world is like. There’s a certain naïvéte that I just couldn’t get behind.
One thing I found particularly interesting, though, was the actual world building. The novel is a fantasy by feel, but the physical location is a sci-fi/dystopian mix. There are definite signs of highly advanced technology, but whoever was there before didn’t exactly leave instruction manuals lying around. There are a few mentions later on in the book that lead me to believe they aren’t on the Earth, but even now I’m still not sure.
All this said, I will probably look for the next in the series, if only to see how things turn out. I’m definitely curious. But I wouldn’t go looking for it if you aren’t already a YA fan – there are definitely better introductions to the genre out there. Try Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas for some fantasy assassins, or Graceling by Kristin Cashore for a driven heroine with emotional issues, or even Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder for a slightly older heroine dealing with politics (and more assassinations). Save Markswoman for if you are already into the world of YA romance triangles and really love them.