No mercy, no hesitation, no witnesses.
I finished reading this book two weeks ago and I’m still having trouble figuring out what to say about it. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I flew through it. It’s not that I didn’t love the characters. I did. So much! It’s that practically everything I want to say about this book wanders into spoiler territory and I don’t want to ruin it for you.
Isabel Ryan is trying her best to reinvent herself as Bella Nicholls. Isabel was trained as a contract killer by Comma, one of Espera’s two guilds. Bella is an ordinary high school student, a civilian.
She’s seventeen, she’s safe, and she got out.
One day maybe that will feel true.
Isabel is one of the best badass characters I’ve ever survived. She’s resilient, surprisingly vulnerable and all kinds of lethal when the situation calls for it.
‘It’s my trauma. You don’t get to tell me how to deal with it.’
Emma is one of the best friends you could ever hope to meet.
She smiles like it’s nothing. Show her how she can help, give her the knowledge to do it, and there it is: joy.
Grace is a librarian, which made her one of my favourite characters even before I knew anything else about her.
‘All I can offer is books and friendly advice, I’m afraid.’
This is a book about surviving against the odds. It’s about extricating yourself from the past when it’s holding on for dear life. It’s about control: being controlled, losing control and taking it back.
Isabel’s past is essentially layers of trauma and her present isn’t any easier. Not only is she trying to cope with the physical and emotional fallout from her life in the guild, she’s doing her best to create a new life for herself in hopes of having a future. Although not specifically identified as such, the portrayal of PTSD was authentic.
I loved that the chapter titles were in Esperanto as well as English. I loved the worldbuilding. I hated being constantly worried about the safety of my favourite characters but loved that, despite the darkness of this book, there was enough light to find them in the first place.
Favourite no context quote:
‘A candle can’t do much against a black hole.’
‘So light another candle.’
Content warnings include child abuse (emotional, medical, neglect, physical, verbal), foster care and mental health. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Children’s UK for the opportunity to read this book. I need the sequel immediately!
Once Upon a Blurb
Trained and traumatised by a secret assassin programme for minors, Isabel Ryans wants nothing more than to be a normal civilian. After running away from home, she has a new name, a new life and a new friend, Emma, and for the first time in Isabel’s life, things are looking up.
But old habits die hard, and it’s not long until she blows her cover, drawing the attention of the guilds – the two rival organisations who control the city of Espera. An unaffiliated killer like Isabel is either a potential asset … or a threat to be eliminated.
Will the blood on her hands cost her everything?