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Markswoman (Asiana #1) by Rati Mehrotra
Expected publication: January 23rd 2018 by Harper Voyager
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, a highly trained sisterhood of elite warriors armed with telepathic blades. Guided by a strict code of conduct, Kyra and the other Orders are sworn to protect the people of Asiana. But to be a Markswoman, an acolyte must repudiate her former life completely. Kyra has pledged to do so, yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her dead family.

When Kyra’s beloved mentor dies in mysterious circumstances, and Tamsyn, the powerful, dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. Using one of the strange Transport Hubs that are remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past, she finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a young, disillusioned Marksman whom she soon befriends.

Kyra is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof. And if she fails to find it, fails in her quest to keep her beloved Order from following Tamsyn down a dark path, it could spell the beginning of the end for Kyra–and for Asiana.

But what she doesn’t realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is razor thin . . . thin as the blade of a knife.

I AM HERE FOR SISTERHOODS OF BADASS WOMEN. My reading interests fall pretty neatly into two categories: books full of badass characters (the characters I want to become) and trashy romance novels (for the trashy person that I am.) I was so certain Markswoman would fall into the former category, but it ended up falling into neither. My emotions while reading went something like: bewildered -> confused -> quite frankly lost??? -> bored -> a little more than slightly angry -> confused -> oh what the book ended?

Let’s START AT THE VERY BEGINNING. The map was charming; the intro fairly interesting. I liked the “while we hold a katari in our hands and the Kanun in our hearts, a word from us can still raise armies and crumble mountains” line. But then we get to the opening chapters in Kyra and Rustan’s POV, and, well. It’s not a bad thing necessarily – no part of Markswoman was inherently terrible, except for maybe that bit toward the end that I’ll get to later – and this is going to sound really bad at the beginning but please bear with me I’ll explain.

I wasn’t really feeling how the good majority of the “good” characters in the story seemed so uncertain about executing. I mean normal people SHOULD be uncertain about executing people. But when it’s your job, please be certain before you do the deed? Personally, I consider it pretty crucial for executioners to be certain about their actions. And if they ever feel like they did something wrong, they should right it as well as they could. You can never bring someone back from the dead, but acknowledging a wrongful death, figuring out what was behind it… I think those are pretty good places to start. And the uncertain waffling didn’t stop at killings – it extended to practically all other aspects of the character’s life. But Markswoman and Marksmen are chosen, and I find it hard to believe that so many wafflers were chosen? Kyra I can see; Kyra makes sense – her first kill left her uncertain, and her character’s brave and strong and fairly tenacious in her other actions. But Rustan? Rustan. He waffles a lot – on everything – and avoids responsibility just as often and wow his character was frustrating. A lot of the elders of Kali were the same, as well as many of Kyra’s friends, and it didn’t match with the narrative. Markswoman and Marksmen are chosen on spirit, y’know, all that good inner stuff, and while that sounds nice and all, you can’t see a lot of it! Tamsyn and Shirin Mam had balls of fucking steel if you’ll forgive my wording, but most of the other characters? They left a lot to be desired.

I did really like how the author used palindromic prime numbers as passwords for the doors. Call me a nerd but little things like that make me happy. The whole thing about how Kyra and Shirin Mam would pass on was also kind of eerie and unsettling but interesting at the same time – especially Kyra and her dreams. I’d love to see that developed in the upcoming books.

The pacing, on the other hand, was shaky. The beginning ambles a little. When her mentor dies, Kyra isn’t “forced on the run” so much as she just hightails it out of there and at that point, Tamsyn hadn’t seemed like a terribly bad character, and so Kyra’s actions do come off as rash and bewildering. The plot starts ambling again after the death, only to collide headfirst into the tragedy that was Markswoman’s Romantic Subplot. In which Kyra doesn’t “befriend” Rustan so much as she does piss him off, get beat up by him, and then plummet headfirst into what can be best described as a tragically ill-timed romance. In that order. Then the plot slows again, only to speed up in the last few pages. If the author’s goal was to give us all whiplash? She succeeded. Markswoman was like one of those “the history of the universe in a year” kind of videos when nothing happens in the first 365 days and then suddenly you hit the last few hours and BOOM apes become people invent writing make Pyramids start the Renaissance go to space.

MOVING ON. THE ROMANCE. Quite honestly I thought Markswoman would’ve been better without the romance. But if there had to be, of all the possible ways it could’ve gone – Kyra x a cute badass girl from the Order of Kali or Kyra x a cute badass girl from a neighboring order or Kyra x a cute badass guy from the order of Khur who actuALLY TREATS HER WELL – how did we end up here?

Without giving anything away, right before the descent into ~romance~ some other asshole assaults Kyra via her mind and after saving her the first thing her “male romantic lead” does is pull some aggressive tsundere romantic bullshit on her and WHY? There was no chemistry and then suddenly we’re told they have all the chemistry and the guy is this close to being unable to keep it in his pants anymore. I’m paraphrasing of course but that was very much the sentiment and I was very much put off.

And then it gets even worse because I actually kind of admired Kyra’s spirit and tenacity before, even though it wasn’t as delved into as it could’ve been (the thing with her dead family’s only brought up here and there, and in her goals against Tamsyn, she seems fierce at times but oddly emotionless and forced at others). BUT BUT BUT so she’s in for the fight of her life. Her work over the past few months have been building up to this moment. SHE MIGHT DIE. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARKSWOMAN, PART OF A HIGHLY TRAINED SISTERHOOD OF ELITE WARRIORS, IS ARMED WITH A TELEPATHIC BLADE, IS ABLE TO WALK THROUGH DOORS NO ONE ELSE CAN, AND HAS THE STEELY MIND TO SHUT OUT THE LURING CREEPY SUGGESTIONS OF AN EVIL SENTIENT GUN (which was a super cool idea I’d definitely be down for reading more about) ANd then some guy who can’t read the atmosphere or spare consideration for her mental state comes along and all she can think of is

“Why had he kissed her? Why had it hurt so much when he stepped away from her and left the room?”

@Kyra maybe not now? YOUR LIFE IS ON THE LINE DAMMIT.

All in all, Markswoman wasn’t a terrible read. The writing was nice, I liked a lot of the ideas that went into this novel, and Kyra was, at most times, pretty cool to follow along. But with the pacing, the shaky characterization, the romance… it had potential, but ended up slipping to the lower end of “okay.”