Death Warden – C.J. Stilling

*I received a free copy of this book, with thanks to the author.  The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb: A teenage assassin. An impossible choice. The fate of everything hangs in the balance…

Be good, or the death wardens will come for you. Walls cannot stop them. Blades cannot cut them. They will track you down, and when they find you, they will steal your soul. Reen thought they were only stories meant to scare children.

Then she became one.

Divinely selected to assassinate a few for the good of the many, Reen learns to jump from shadow to shadow and claim her victims without question. For a time, she even finds a sense of family amongst the Haven Isles’ most adept killers—something she’s never had before—though none of them can protect her from the parade of victims that haunt her dreams. If only the nightmares were the worst of her problems.

Someone is hunting God’s killers, and an ancient evil has returned, slowly turning the Isles’ inhabitants into nightmarish creatures. Fighting to stay alive and protect those around her, Reen’s faith is tested as her quest for answers uncovers sinister secrets that shake the foundation of everything she believes until all that remains is the edge of her knife and the certainty that death comes for all.

Can Reen stop the evil before it spreads beyond their borders and overwhelms the world?

Death Warden is an exhilarating YA fantasy. If you like strong heroines, vivid world building, and dark secrets, then you’ll love C.J. Stilling’s imaginative tale.

What really stands out in this fantasy novel is the superb worldbuilding.

We meet reluctant Death Warden (a kind of magical assassin), Reen, just as she is forced to return to her calling and the whole city appears to be falling to The Scourge (sort of like a zombie plague). Reen’s Custodian (a shadow man who directs her to kill) is there as guide and back-up, as are the other Death Wardens, but what are their motivations and who can she really trust?

The timeline jumps around a bit, from past to present, which was a little confusing at times, but the plot and character development were immersive enough to carry the reader through any moments of uncertainty. I really liked the complicated relationships Reen had with other characters, that couldn’t really be stereotyped and were revealed gradually and organically with her personal history.

In fact, the only area where this book was slightly in danger of losing a star for me, was the ending! The book stands alone, but I really didn’t want it to, as while the immediate story was neatly and satisfactorily wrapped up, I felt there were more stories to tell for Reen and her world. I would love to see this as the first in a Death Warden series, and my eventual decision to give it 5 stars was very much based in the hope that that may still happen!

Death Warden is a well-written and compelling YA fantasy that is equally suitable for adult readers, and C.J. Stilling is definitely one to watch for fantasy fans.

Reen looked past the cots. Her custodian was there but no longer a simple shadow. His black form took on three dimensional substance as he stepped out from the wall and doffed his tricorn hat. Reaching inside it, he withdrew a sword, long and midnight black. He held it vertically over one of the sick boys and thrust down, the tip emerging through the bottom of the cot. Leaving the blade quivering inside the boy’s body, her custodian drew a second sword and repeated the action with the boy in the other cot.
His blades did no actual damage. They never did. That was Reen’s job. He marked the victims; she did the killing. But she didn’t kill anymore. She’d sworn she never would again.

– C.J. Stilling, Death Warden

Find more from C.J. Stilling at his website here, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Death Warden is available on Amazon right now.

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