Title: The Impossible Contract
Author: K. A. Doore
Publication date: November 12, 2019
Summary: Book 2 in the Chronicles of Ghadid series, it takes place a few years after the events of the first book, The Perfect Assassin. This time, the story is centered on Thana, cousin to the assassin introduced in the first book. As the Serpent’s Daughter, she has a lot to live up to, which is also why she was chosen for a special contract: to kill Heru Sametket, second marabi advisory to the Empress. It seemed simple enough, until the dead became reanimated, and bent on destruction and death. Seeking to complete her contract, Thana ends up traveling across the desert to the Empress’s palace alongside Heru and a healer named Mo, but Heru manages to thwart her every time, to the point where the two reach an uneasy truce as a larger, more dangerous, game comes to light.
I loved the first book, so I was eager to read the second. Fortunately, it holds up well to the first. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem quite as flawless, but perhaps it’s an interesting reflection of the different narrators. In the first book, Amastan was careful, precise, and thoughtful. In the second book, Thana is a bit more reckless, a bit less thoughtful, and very reliant on Amastan’s wisdom. She has a lot of live up to, so I imagine the strain and stress to be incredible.
The Characters: Flawed and Interesting
The characterizations in these books are amazing. The characters are unique, consistent, and flawed. They feel like real people.
Heru annoyed me to no end, but I still loved his character. He had a strong sense of self-preservation, but was extremely adept at playing a dangerous game. He sometimes felt like a fool, a bit too lost in his research, but always managed to find the upper hand and play his roles to perfection. I wanted to love Thana. She was an interesting character from the first book that I would have liked to see more of, so I was glad to see this book was about her. I expected someone just as skilled as Amastan, but she proved to be very different. She had a lot to live up to and I think it made her flawed in a way that felt a little dangerous and a little thoughtless. She wasn’t quite as perfect as Amastan, not quite as brilliant, and little too likely to pass on the details. She felt young, younger than Amastan had. Still, she was strong and capable and an amazing female character. Mo, the healer, was incredible. Dedicated to her profession, she felt deeply, trusted easily, and felt betrayal the hardest. I think she was the deepest feeling character and it helped soften Heru and Thana. She was a beautiful addition, and I really felt for her character at the end of the book.
The Setting: Exploring the Wider World
I expected that the setting would remain unchanged for this second book. I expected to be further plunged into Ghadid. While more of the city was explored, it also went well beyond that.
The characters explored the desert, the mostly unmapped Wastes, and the capital city of the empire. The world expanded at a quickly escalating rate. It felt like it should be difficult to comprehend, as though adding so much to the world in one book should be too much, but I was relieved it wasn’t. I suppose there just isn’t much to a desert beyond sand. Seriously, though, the city and the desert came to life. Both were well-described without being overboard and they each played their own roles before the author moved on to the next locale.
I loved that the world building went beyond Ghadid, but I’m a bit nervous about the next book. I don’t want to say too much, but something devastating happened to Ghadid and it kind of hurts that so many of the people and places I had gotten to know won’t be coming back. I’m apprehensive about what will happen to Ghadid. At the same time, I was worried about book after book taking place in the exact same city. It looks like that won’t be an issue and I look forward to what the author offers next.
The Plot: A Dangerous Game with Layers
The title says it all: Thana’s contract will be impossible. I was dying of curiosity to see how that would happen, and wasn’t disappointed. This was truly a greater game than merely completing a contract as the first book had been. Couched within a greater, deadlier game, it was a breathtaking adventure.
I didn’t like that it was so easy to spot why it was impossible, but I appreciated the layers of complexity that kept being added to it. Heru’s character was really quite exceptional as it was usually him that added the next layer. Thana felt a bit reactive to the plot while Heru felt like the plot-driver, but it worked in a harmony that the characters themselves had a hard time establishing, which was actually a lot of fun.
My only real complaint here is that the first half was so darn slow. Information was revealed at a snail’s pace and the story felt like it was meandering a little. One thing would happen and then another path would be taken and then another layer was added and suddenly they’re in the Empress’s palace. I was so happy when the second half really took off. That’s where most of the action was. That’s when the plot really picked up, when the game was well and truly deadly and afoot. It was fast-paced and I found I didn’t want to stop reading. At the same time, I wasn’t ready for the story to end.
Overall: A Great Second Book in the Series
This was a good follow-up to the first book. I don’t think it quite matched it’s predecessor, but it wasn’t a bad successor. It added to the world and the character bank while also nodding to the characters of the first book. The story wasn’t quite as strong, but I also went into it with high expectations as I rated the first book a 5. While disappointing, I did appreciate the many twists and turns. I was definitely surprised, and was very pleased when the last quarter of the book really got my heart thudding. That second half really was quite wonderful.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
You can find more of my reviews on the Bookshelf.