Sister Assassin by Kiersten White
Series: Mind Games #1
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Young-Adult
Expected Publication: February 19th 2013 by HarperTeen
Some of you may know Sister Assassin more commonly as Mind Games, the American version of the book with an entirely different cover.
However on with the book, I felt like none of the synopsis really captured the book for me or they have away too much. Sister Assassin is undoubtedly full of mystery (and unfortunately for me it was full of confusion). I went into reading the book without really reading the synopsis and in a way I am glad, because for me it told you everything that I didn’t expect in the novel and that would have detracted from my enjoyment.
Sister Assassin focuses on the relationship between two sisters, Sofia and Annie (Annie being the older) and how they have abilities (not the only people in the world) and how these are used to help them survived. They are trapped in a vicious circle of heart-break, betrayal, pain, hurting and this is all confined within a school that is designed to “mould” the girls and ultimately use them. There’s lots of subterfuge and excitement along the way and a little bit of romance. However the novel is driven by the two sisters and their relationship and the extent in which having these powers will mean they have to go to.
Sister Assassin unfortunately is not a novel I enjoyed, and I am sure I will be one of the rare few and it is not often that I feel that way. For me, the problem with Sister Assassin lay not with the structure of the narrative which switches between Annie and Sofia, the two protagonists and sisters and jumping from present to past. This did discombobulate me, but I learned to deal and pay close attention to the time frame, it was the characters themselves that truly grated on me. Despite this, I think Sister Assassin has an awful lot to offer as a novel and that is its true selling point, I have not read any of Kiersten White’s other novels, but this one contains, fantasy elements, mystery, romance and lots of thrills and action. My brain was constantly ticking over to try and find out what was happening and it wasn’t so overly complicated that I couldn’t figure out things.
Sofia and Annie are two sisters who supposedly love each other and care very deeply. Annie is the older sister and this took me a while to figure out, since it didn’t seem to be entirely clear for me (or I likely skipped this part for some unknown reason). Still, this confused me as to the real dynamic of their relationship as sisters for the first half of the novel because the time jumping failed to lay the foundations for their relationship and I couldn’t get a connection to the two. I thought Sofia was the older sister purely because of the way she acted and then it took me by surprise since Annie appeared to be the child. Unfortunately for me, first impressions count and it’s hard to remove them after that. I didn’t like the sisters in all honesty. I felt that they were both destructive towards each other and despite all this caring and their environment being destructive they were not healthy for each other. There seemed to be little vindictive digs between the two and a hatred that made reading sour for me. Whether this was Kiersten’s intention to rebuild something between the two of them, I felt that it was too far gone to truly be fixed and that the girls were so damaged that it twisted my stomach.
“Why? And thanks to Keane’s rules, I can’t visit her or even call her without being spied on. How could she do this to me? To us? She used me.”
When the novel is called Sister Assassin I fear that the title is slightly misleading because it creates the idea of a duo. This is not to be seen because the title Mind Games I feel is infinitely more applicable to the novel and that the characters within the novel play mind games upon the girls because Sofia and Annie are far from being equals. They are used against each other and manipulated and this is what I didn’t like because it slowly disintegrated their relationship and left a sour feeling in my gut. I hated how the siblings who had to rely solely on one and other were dragged apart and how they both got the idea they were of lesser value to the other. I liked the initiative of White to take on this dynamic, but to use the girls to abuse one another so emotionally that they became even more frayed grated on me. I don’t think I’d have minded so much if I felt that something positive came of this, but it just felt pointless.
Even without liking the destructive relationship between the girls, I neither liked their personalities. I felt that both of them were self-absorbed and choosing to blame themselves too much for every problem. Everything was me, me, me, and they didn’t look for each other. They failed to communicate. This may all seem to be part of the dark, twisted novel that definitely gets points for being gritty and full of hardship, I just couldn’t connect with these whiny, characters that seemed to emphasise so much about not doing it that they eventually would. Not everything fails though because they do both have redeeming moments in the fact that they eventually seem to reach a point of resolution that doesn’t fully give an ending to their relationship just represents their intelligence and bond. It didn’t leave me satisfied enough to give this book a higher rating, however I believe that a lot of people will truly appreciate the novel and its ending for its subtle cleverness.
Having said that, Sister Assassin takes on a unique, brave approach in the young-adult world and it is quick read at just over 200 pages, pushes forward an action packed and thrilling novel that will tick an awful lot of boxes for people with a desire for heroines that push themselves into the thick of things and still manage to show vulnerabilities, I just couldn’t connect with the characters or appreciate them.
The romance in Sister Assassin frustrated me beyond belief because I was rooting for all the wrong things. I think this left me disappointed and I couldn’t understand the characters and their actions. I’m not for happily ever afters in every novels because this isn’t what Sister Assassin delivers and with such a title it’s not really what I expected, but neither am I for entire paths of destruction or stupidity. I just felt like wringing the characters necks. Having said that, the love interests that we gain and note the word “interests” however this is used with the utmost care and it does not really create a love triangle, it much more becomes a pinnacle of direction of choice for Sofia who is the focus of this novel much more. Despite this, I couldn’t connect to either boy that she has in her life nor truly like them. There was always undercurrents that left me unsettled from all the characters and this book.
“I wish she were my dog and I had an alcoholic father and I was the type of girl that Adam could date and rescue and fall in love with. I wish my left arm didn’t hurt so much I wanted to die…”
The one element of Sister Assassin I wish had been focused upon much more was the school and the whole dynamic surrounding this. I feel like we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface and White eluded to so much more and she left me rather disappointed if I’m honest with her eventual unveiling in Sister Assassin and this is the sole reason to my contemplation to pick up the next novel when I didn’t truly connect with this one. However I feel like there is lots of potential on a mystery and political front that can be dragged from the school and the direction White is taking her novel in. Maybe if she’d allowed herself to continue this one I may have been able to engage more with her direction. However at the moment I feel isolated from the characters and her direction.
The other point to note is the narrative. We split between both Annie and Sofia and then from past to present and you have to pay close attention to the changing time frame. It can certainly draw you away from the novel, but eventually I managed to get into the narrative after a while and looking out for the specific changes and I think the time frame added to the subplots of the novel and the complexity to slowly unveil the events and different elements that are contained in Sister Assassin to make it so dynamic.
Overall, I don’t suggest you ignore Sister Assassin, but I suggest an air of caution. I know plenty of people who have adored this novel and I feel I will be a black sheep in not liking this, but I found it hard to change my mind by the end of the novel despite its improvement. For me, White has lots of lost potential here in Sister Assassin that I don’t think she used in the right way for her characters to work in a believable, damaged way without everything seeming to be one abuse after another between every relationship that led to a breakdown. I’ve found it hard to truly put all my feelings into Sister Assassin because I really felt rather ambivalent by the end and whilst I appreciate the ending I still couldn’t find myself to like it more. However just to show you that there are people who loved it, check out Rebekah’s review at The Reflections of a Bookworm here and Tonya’s from The Midnight Garden’s review here, both who gave the book four stars.
*Quotes taken from an uncorrected e-arc copy provided through NetGalley thanks to HarperCollinsUK
The use of a different title and cover is largely due to the HarperCollins UK buying the publishing rights for Mind Games and choosing to take a different marketing approach to the UK market, nothing exciting really. I think whilst the title is less apt, the tagline fits perfectly to the novel. This is the American cover that some of you may be more familiar with.
This year both Mind Games and Sister Assassin will be released to America and the UK, Australia etc on the same date, because of HaperCollins UK buying the rights, so all those UK buddies will not have to wait to get their hands on this!