2 / 5 stars
Read in August 2020
Book #1 in the Twin Daggers series
Published August 25, 2020
Marketed as a fantasy spy thriller spin on Romeo and Juliet, I was very hopeful Twin Daggers would break the cycle of lackluster YA Fantasy ARCs I’ve read over the last several months.
Yet like many other reviewers, I unfortunately had a hard time getting through this story. Our MC, Aissa, has been placed as a Magi spy in the Technocrat capital with her parents and twin sister, Zandria. The book dragged on, despite most of the book centering around Aissa’s going back and forth between locations and using her job as an mechanic’s apprentice to infiltrate the palace for information. Connolly writes action and suspense scenes well, and many of them had me on the edge of my seat. However, these were not enough to save what I found to be a slow book filled with info dumps and repetitive details.
Aissa is a pretty standard YA narrator from 1st person POV. From the beginning we are told of her hatred of the Technocrats, but this never goes beyond surface level. Aissa was raised in the Technocrat capital and went to Technocrat school with Technocrat friends and neighbors, so I had a difficult time believing she harbored zero sympathy for any Technocrats. Living among them, she would have ample opportunities to see them as individuals rather than one homogenous evil group. At one point she states she used to befriend them, as her sister Zandria still can, but she lost these softer tendencies long ago. Why? We’re never given a reason for this. And of course, the only person able to break through Aissa’s Technocrat hatred and make her question her beliefs is her Technocrat love interest, Aro.
Despite the amount of scenes spent on Aissa and Aro’s relationship, their romance lacked chemistry. Aro works in the palace, so Aissa takes advantage of his crush on her to gain information and quickly finds herself becoming the mask. Although this isn’t an insta-love story, it still somehow felt like their love came out of nowhere and their romance didn’t drive the story forward. And no matter what the book blurb might say, this is not a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Unless there are connections I missed, the only similarity is that Aissa and Aro are from two enemy groups. Marketing their romance as a Shakespeare spinoff is misleading, which I know isn’t up to the author, but it still caused some disappointment.
Unfortunately I didn’t feel too attached to any of the other characters either. For a YA Fantasy where both of the MC’s parents are actually still alive, they weren’t in the book very much and didn’t check on their kids very often. The king and queen are SuperEvil™ cardboard cutouts of villains who take pleasure in torturing Magi. I found it hard to believe Leon and Aro would trust Aissa, a new apprentice fresh out of school and whom they’ve never met before, with such important, top secret projects in the palace. Isaiah, Remy, and the Magi Council had the potential to be interesting, but acted more as plots devices than anything. Lastly, I wanted Sparky to play a much bigger role! He could have been such a fun side character, like R2D2 or BB8 in Star Wars.
Regarding the worldbuildling and soft magic system, there are some interesting elements I enjoyed, but overall both felt a bit shallow while also seeming like an overflow of information. I appreciated that Aissa is already skilled in magic at the start of the book, so this isn’t one of those stories where our protagonist discovers secret powers and must learn to use them; however, I still would’ve liked to see her struggle with her abilities throughout the book, as her magic constantly seemed to provide easy solutions. I also liked that the Magi Council was nuanced and provided challenges for Aissa just as much as the Technocrats, and I would’ve liked to see this dynamic explored more.
Although there isn’t any info on a sequel on Goodreads (yet), based on the ending of this book it’s definitely set up to be a series since much is left unresolved. Sadly, Twin Daggers wasn’t for me and it has joined the list of 2020 YA Fantasy series I will not continue past the first installment.
Thank you to Blink via Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.