Book Review: Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Asiana
Publisher: Harper Voyager (January 23, 2018)
Length: 371 pages
There’s really not much more to say about Markswoman beyond the fact it was a thoroughly engaging and straight-up good read. I blew through this book in a little over a day, and I loved how what started off as a typical YA-ish premise eventually developed and grew into a more enigmatic, mature and interesting story.
Our protagonist is Kyra, a Markswoman in the Order of Kali, a sisterhood of elite warriors trained to protector and enforce the laws of this unforgiving, post-apocalyptic-like world. Because of the nature of their work, Markswomen also occasionally take on the role of assassin, and although Kyra recently passed all her tests to become a full-fledged sister, the order’s leader Shirin Mam still has concerns about her readiness to take on these types of missions on her own. Due to her tragic past, Kyra was one of the youngest girls to ever join the sisterhood, and much unresolved anger still simmers within her for the bandits that killed her entire family. Secretly, she dreams of one day hunting them all down and exacting her revenge.
But then Shirin Mam dies mysteriously, and for Kyra it is like losing her mother for the second time. Worse, the order’s Mistress of Mental Arts named Tamsyn, whom Kyra has never gotten along with, becomes the new leader of the Order of Kali. Tamsyn’s veiled threats as well as her hunger for power makes Kyra believe she has something to do with Shirin Mam’s death. And so, before the order’s new mistress can claim her predecessor’s magical sword, our protagonist makes off with it and escapes through a Transport Hub, one of the strange portals left over from the world’s ancient past. Emerging in a desert, Kyra finds herself in the home of the Order of Khur, shunned from all the others because they are the only one composed of men. One of their Marksmen, Rustan, helps bring Kyra’s news of Shirin Mam’s death to his elders and heeds her when she expresses her suspicions about Tamsyn’s treachery.
The world of Markswoman, Asiana, is a very cool place. Its past is slowly revealed as we discover that many centuries ago, a Great War devastated the land and changed it forever. But because there is also magic and hints at the remnants of advanced technology, the result is a fascinating kind of fantasy and sci-fi dystopian mix. Harsh conditions have forged a very different kind of civilization, as merciless as the landscape. Thus, the Orders of Peace was born, giving rise to a new system to reign in the chaos and maintain harmony. The worst crimes were punishable by execution, carried out by Markswomen.
Kyra herself was an archetypal kind of protagonist, but that didn’t make her any less interesting to follow. She has the quintessential backstory of tragedy involving a murdered family, fueling her bloodthirsty desire for vengeance even though Markswomen are supposed to leave their pasts behind when they commit to their order. That said, her first mission ended in near disaster when she almost failed to kill her mark—a man who was part of the clan who massacred her loved ones—because of a momentary lapse of resolve. The experience forces her to recognize that there is still much for her to learn, as well as make her rethink her path in life.
For all that Markswoman was an enjoyable read though, plot and character development was still lighter than I would have preferred. Magical sentient weapons and the suggestion of alien tech aside, the world building was also sparse and lacked a quality to bring it all together despite all the wonderful ideas and imagination poured into its creation. As a reading experience, this was not a very deep one, nor do I think the story will end up being too memorable, as most of the plot (especially early on) relies heavily on prophecy tropes and other familiar elements. Still, to the novel’s credit, the second half contained a lot more surprises, and overall this was a quick and easy read, undeniably fun while it lasted.
A warning though, before I wrap this up: this book ends with an abrupt cliffhanger. Since I received Markswoman and its sequel Mahimata at the same time for review, I was already prepared to read both books as a whole, but readers who prefer their book endings with actual resolutions may want a heads up. Personally, I’m looking forward to diving into the next one, not only to see what happens next but because I’m also confident that Mahimata will bring much more on the characters, story, and world. I’ll be picking it up soon.