Death Sworn, by Leah Cypess, was published in 2014 by Greenwillow.
I really wasn’t expecting to like Death Sworn as much as I did. In fact, about halfway through I lamented about how the entire plot was basically an unimaginative romance thinly veiled as something actually interesting. But then, something happened towards the end of the book—I became irrevocably hooked.
Death Sworn is full of political intrigue, though you aren’t necessarily able to tell at first glance. Cypess is doing some pretty shallow worldbuilding: all important details are given through conversation or casual asides and thoughts. Since Ileni never leaves the cave, that’s the whole world the reader knows, so the rest of it is pretty flimsy. Yet, somehow, Cypess manages to sell some parts of it, enough for the reader to actually care. Looking back, I can see how thin the worldbuilding is, but in the moment, I didn’t notice. That “in the moment” matters a lot.
The plot itself is part murder mystery, part romance. Well, mostly romance, and a pretty basic, obvious one at that. I’ve never liked the “girl falls in love with dangerous boy” romances, and I’ve also never liked the “boy falls in love with the only girl around” romances. So, since this romance is made up of both of those traits, I pretty much thought that part of the book was pretty boring. However, the parts of the plot that are murder mystery are pretty superb and interesting. I wish Cypess had done more worldbuilding so that I was more aware of all the different details going on, and so that things felt more connected to me as the reader, but despite that, the explosion of plot at the end really hooked me, so much so that I immediately went out to get the second book.
And, despite the unoriginal aspect of the romance, it didn’t end how I thought it would—though, looking back at it, it ends pretty unoriginally as well. But again, in the moment, Cypess exceeded my expectations, and that’s important.