Mortis by Hannah Cobb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Mortis delivers just the sort of tale you would expect about an honor-driven underground school of child assassins-in-training. The plot is sneaky, and at times purposefully deceptive, but nonetheless fairly written.
The story revolves around Jane, a student with the special power to turn invisible in any conditions short of broad daylight. She could use this power, along with her excellent stealth and combat skills, to rise to the top of her class and become a true name to be feared among the Master Assassins, those who graduate from Mortis. Instead, she adopts the moniker of the mouse and purposefully hides her abilities as an average student. Ironic, as while everyone in Mortis may view her as nothing special, her ability to perfectly blend in as average while secretly possessing great talent technically makes her superior to the assassins who flaunt their power.
This fact does not go unnoticed by Jane’s two closest friends: Willy, a fiery spirit whose unpredictability can only be matched by her ability to find humor in the darkest moments, and Felix, the protective, skillful boy who constantly skirts the line of lawful stupid but never quite crosses it. Together these three form the power trio who wonder about the morality of raising orphans to become remorseless assassins.
As you go through the initial chapters you might be wondering why Jane has the unique power to turn invisible. You might also be wondering just what’s in that secret passage below the ship cavern, or Willy’s pointed secret, or why Thomas Wade has purple eyes and the ability to see through Jane’s invisibility. Don’t worry too much about these details. The book takes pride in keeping the reader in the dark, dangling details but never fully explaining them until it is necessary to strike. Annoying, but justified in keeping with the theme of a book about assassins. You’ll find out what you want to know as you need to know it.
I give the book credit for its rich world building – the author clearly took a long time developing the rich world of Mortis, and these details reveal themselves just like the plot points – on a need to know basis. Unfortunately this works against the book when it feels the need to deliver Mortis trivia during climactic moments. Thank you for describing the nursery at the end of the book, but I do believe we have more important matters to attend to.
I also praise the book for attempting to show the morality and ethics of the assassin’s art. This is not a happy-go-lucky anime where killing is seen as nothing special – the story takes time to dive into the realistic side-effects of what happens when a teenager is tasked with taking a life. Even if you’ve been trained to do it your entire life – theory is different than the reality of what lies before you.
Sometimes you have to make a critical decision. A decision that not only impacts you, but friends and strangers around you. The trick is, can you live with the decision of what you do (or do not do)?
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