Publication Date: July 16, 2009
The Kingdom of Sieunes is rife with taverns, dirty streets, and clay pipe smoking citizens all toiling to feed their families and keep themselves in something little better than rags. With a foiled revolution just ten years prior still burning in the hearts of many, the royals enlist the aid of assassins to keep things in order. The townsfolk entertain themselves by dreaming of better times to come and regaling in stories of the undead said to walk the graveyards at night… and of Cameo the killer with corpse-like eyes…Scarred and jaded Cameo is one of the most effective assassins in the employ of the Association, moving from one mission to the next as long as the alcohol keeps flowing. Her acceptance of the murder-for-hire lifestyle is thrown into doubt when she meets a local highwayman with a penchant for fine clothes and women, and then she begins to think about breaking with the company but no one ever breaks with the Association under good terms.
On a beautiful sunny afternoon, a young woman lay dying, molested, beaten and stabbed. She could see the bloody body of her sister nearby, the remains of their picnic lunch scattered across the clearing. As her life ebbed, she felt the brush of hair against her face, the ice cold pain of her slashed neck being lifted, then as endless hours passed, her strength returned and she rose.
Years later, Cameo is an assassin for the Association in a land where anyone of any importance can and probably will have a price on their head someday. Her current assignment: the Prince of Sieunes. On her way to him in Lockenwood, the coach she’s traveling in is robbed – very unfortunately for the bandits, a man named Bel and his companion, the foppish, eye-patch-wearing Opal. Successfully completing her assassination of the Prince, Cameo gets her next job: Opal. This time, she’s saddled with a fellow assassin that she hates and when the two track down Opal, things go wrong. The head of the Association knows a political advantage when she sees it and immediately declares that Cameo, the other assassin, Bel and Opal are responsible for the Prince of Sieunes’ murder and issues prices on all of their heads.
I was trying to think of a way to classify this, came up with all sorts of options and decided not to put it in any particular box. There are a lot of swashbuckling-type things – people get shot and stabbed a lot and nearly everyone is usually drinking something out of a bottle or flask. There are paranormal elements – the head of the Association is a nasty witch named Wick, what exactly Cameo is and isn’t doesn’t get revealed for a while and of course there’s the matter of who and what it was that came upon her that day that she was dying at the picnic. This has a really good adventure storyline, with Cameo and her reluctant new friends on the run first from the Association, then on their way to a new assignment and there’s a – to me, odd – romantic development.
McCullough-White has a terrifically vivid style of storytelling without falling into adjective-dump territory. The story covers a lot of physical geography and when there were breaks in the action, they usually took place somewhere interesting. The cast of supporting characters were nicely done, never one-dimensional and easy to distinguish from each other – the lusty barmaids were even unique from tavern to tavern. The paranormal elements blended seamlessly with the traditional storyline, sometimes humorously – the threat of Cameo was used by parents to get naughty children to go to bed.
My issues with the book come solely from problems that I had with the characters. Part of the problem I had with Cameo stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know exactly what she was until well into the story. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but there were things that made me wonder if she had the power to do more than she was doing and chose not to or if she had a different kind of power or what. She lounged around drinking a lot and I couldn’t tell if she was acting like she didn’t care because she was powerful and could crush everyone’s head if she wanted or if she was doing it because she was just an alcoholic, bitter assassin – or a mixture. She was a cold-hearted killer who sort of dreamily put makeup on a guy hardly a week later. Her inconsistency was maddening at times – there were flashes of her that were so wonderfully kickass that I wanted to just love her, I was frustrated that I didn’t.
I probably could have loved Opal more than I did, but he’d have to have been stripped of his mannerisms that really made him Opal. He was a sweet and brave man and quite devoted to Cameo – he stuck like glue to her through just about every hell she heaped upon him and even when it was clearly the most idiotic thing in the world, kept trying to protect her. But even given the era, I was having an awful time with the idea of a highwayman who wore velvet and lace, eyeshadow on his one eye not covered by his patch and lip rouge. He fussed with his wardrobe incessantly, wasted every penny on it, even when they were running for their lives and there were all sorts of descriptions of his pockmarked face. As a highwayman, he’d have been caught within a month. As shallow as it is of me, I wish he’d have been a little less of a fop. I was wincing a bit by the end of the book at each application of lip rouge.
My Summary: I loved McCullough-White’s smooth writing style and she told a really interesting, exciting story. I think if some information about Cameo had been revealed earlier, it might have helped me understand her better, but I’d still have liked her be who she was consistently. I liked who Opal was much more, but his mannerisms sometimes got in the way of his personality. Take off his makeup and fancy coats and he’ll be an interesting hero.
My Rating: C+