Twin Daggers by MarcyKate Connolly is one of those books that could have been amazing, but fell flat somewhere between the writing and unnecessary plot devices. There was just so much potential and it was truly disheartening to see it all go to waste. So many good points could have been expanded upon from the world to the characters. But, at the same time, some of the writing and the villain plot kind of just wasted a lot of its potential.
For me, the best thing about this novel is the world. In the simplest of terms, you have the Magi and the Technocrats. There is a long history of oppression from both sides, steeped not only in elitism and purist thought, but also in rebellion and rising against mistreatment. Though it is not how everything began, the fascinating piece is that the elitists are currently the ones being oppressed.
In the beginning, the Magi ruled everything. Later, the Technocrats worked to exterminate them and are now the ruling class. Thus begins our story.
I can’t go too deeply into the intricacies of this world, unfortunately, without delving into some spoilers. Therefore, I will simply say that the more you find out about the history the more impressive it becomes. I was amazed when I learned the truth of everything. That amazement was promptly destroyed when I realized how much potential was wasted.
Aissa and Zandria are Magi twins working with a faction of Magi who call themselves The Armory. The Armory is a network of spies determined to overthrow the ruling Technocrats. Technocrats had previously deposed the Magi rulers and massacred their people to come into power. Unlike all other Magi, able to use magic only on the living, Aissa and Zandria are can affect inanimate objects. This makes them both a valuable asset, but only so long as no Magi learns the truth. It is seen as blasphemous to have such power.
They are given a task to find and kidnap the heir to the Technocrat throne. The child is said to be heartless, supposedly cursed by the Magi. Heartless are born without a heart and thus utterly dependent on a clockwork mechanism to keep themselves alive. As the sole heir to the throne, the kidnapping of this child would turn the tides.
So, there’s a lot going on in this story.
It’s oddly difficult to tie down. Unfortunately, Connolly tells a lot of important information to her readers instead of showing it. In general, the writing was fairly lackluster. Though I liked the characters, very few seemed to have developed motivations. Of everyone, only Aro seemed to have any that made sense consistently.
Aissa and Zandria seemed very brainwashed. At times, it even felt like an incredibly racist way of thinking. The sheer hatred they had for the technocrats simply because of things they’d been told was excessive. Very little of it seemed based on personal experience. Instead, they seemed to hate Technocrats simply because they’re supposed to. Even worse, Aissa would regularly think to herself that it was not her place to understand or question the decisions of her superiors.
The heartless plot was perhaps one of the better threads within this story. Not only was it deeply entrenched in the history, but it was also incredibly important in the present. I especially loved how it impacted the romance. Though somewhat predictable, the execution was brilliant.
Honestly, both sides are problematic here. I loved that. It was genuinely refreshing to feel as though neither the Magi nor the Technocrats were the right side to join. This alone is why the wasted potential disappointed me so much. Connolly had so many directions that she could take and instead of adding nuance to her story, she took the easy way out.
All of her villains were very cookie-cutter. The King and Queen of the Technocrats were basically evil for the sake of being evil. There didn’t really seem to be anything to them other than a love of torturing their enemies and caring for their child. In a way, neither the King or Queen felt like real people. Upon the revelation of who their child was, I couldn’t help feeling as though their evil nature was very contrived.
And I could chock this up to Aissa being an unreliable narrator, but that doesn’t quite feel right. Even with her indoctrinated hatred of Technocrats, it just doesn’t add up.
The leader of The Armory is a villain of his own, believing Magi to be superior and seeding pure hatred of the Technocrats among all his people. He isn’t solely concerned with finding a place of equality for his people but instead is looking to destroy the entire race of Technocrats. He regularly spies on his spies and ultimately makes decisions based on how they will benefit him most.
This played a role in the poor motivations of his son, but I won’t get into that.
The Unnecessary Big Bad
Of all the villains, though, the “surprise” villain is the worst. My biggest problem with this villain is the fact that this person didn’t even need to be one. The most potential wasted is with this character. All of the awful things this character did never should have been included in the book to begin with. In fact, I think this character needed an entirely different role.
There could have been so much nuance to the novel if this character had represented a third option for Aissa and her sister. An option that was not corrupt in the ways the other two were. The world building even had an opening for it! The benefits this would have given the novel are huge!
But, instead, this villain was also a cookie-cutter mess. This villain did horrible things for poor reasons, had terrible dialogue, and was needlessly cruel.
So, I read this as an audiobook. I don’t have a lot to say about that other than the fact that the narrator was nice. She managed to capture each of the characters fairly well.
In the end, I think Twin Daggers could have gone a lot farther than it did. There were so many opportunities for incredible dimensionality within the story. Each opportunity was passed up, though, in favor of a bland cut-out of the same old story. It’s a real shame.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.