Book Reviews

City of Whispers: Imperial Assassin, Book 1

A disgraced assassin. A sinister conspiracy. Will her one shot at redemption be her last? Dhani Karim was once the Empire’s most feared assassin. Framed for a murder she didn’t commit, Dhani is exiled to a remote desert city and forced to work alongside former spy Parvan Gorshayik - a broken man hiding a deadly secret. Yet even as Dhani locks horns with her prickly partner, dark forces gather in the city, planning to overthrow its peaceful rulers and begin a quest to conquer a kingdom. Struggling to navigate a land where she’s one of the few who can’t wield magic, things get worse when Dhani barely survives a brutal attack, and the one person she can trust, Parvan…vanishes. Soon, circumstances point to a ruthless cult, and Dhani finds herself in a race against time to stop a bloodbath that will consume thousands of innocent lives. Can she expose a deadly conspiracy before it causes a massacre?

If you follow my book reviews (and to all of you who do, I thank you), you’ll know that I’m a big fan of fantasy worlds. There’s an art to creating these lands, sometimes similar to ours, sometimes completely foreign, and transporting readers to a living, breathing world with a life of its very own. I’m an especially big fan of fantasy worlds that offer something different to the majority of books within the genre. With its similarities to the Middle East, Izurum, within the Talmakhan Region of the Imperial Colony of Tizrak Yirda (as signposted at the start of Chapter One) is one such setting. And it’s one that Katt Powers brings to life in stunning ways throughout the first book of her Imperial Assassin series, City of Whispers.

Throughout the novel, Powers paints a vivid picture of Tizrak Yirda. This is a world with steampunk trappings that straddles the line between epic and urban fantasy settings, while feeling comfortable in each. As I read City of Whispers, it quickly became clear that the author has created a deep world, full of interesting fantasy and magic systems, an engaging society, and most important of all, a fully realised world. Throughout this tale, it felt as though I was seeing the sights, hearing the sounds and smelling the scents. While it is clear the author has taken inspiration from the Middle East, and the book feels like it takes place there, whether it’s the names used for characters and locations, or the descriptions of the world. I’ve never travelled to that region, but Powers presents this world in such realistic depth that I wonder whether she has travelled there. Whether it’s from her travels or thorough research, a great deal of care has gone into making the book feel true to the Middle East while also presenting a unique and entertaining world.

While City of Whispers is unmistakably a fantasy story, its fantasy elements feel understated. Rather than being in your face—despite it being a world filled with magic users, and having a plot that stems from these magical elements—much of it feels like background to the story. And while these elements feature throughout the book, they are presented in a way that feels like a slow build. I can see this disappointing some fantasy fans who prefer that these settings show less restraint, however this works in the novel’s best interest. The author’s approach not only allows the world, its characters, and their adventures to flourish, but it also provides plenty of breathing room for it to touch upon other genres, including adventure, thriller and mystery. In many ways, City of Whispers even reminds me of the Assassin’s Creed games. At a surface level, both focus on hooded assassins in interesting locations, but both are filled with rollicking action and adventure.

If you follow these reviews (and again, I thank you), you’ll know that I aim to avoid spoilers. Given City of Whispers’ mystery elements, replete with all the twists and turns you can expect from the genre, I’m being doubly careful. The novel focuses on its protagonist, Dhani, an assassin ironically framed for a murder she didn’t commit, bringing a whodunnit element to the book. As Dhani is exiled to Izurum, she is drawn into a web of intrigue and a  conspiracy with ties to politics and religion. The plot moves swiftly as it packs everything in, while balancing it with its characters and worldbuilding.

At 308 pages in paperback (or, for hardcover readers, 334 pages; or an estimated 310 pages for those of you who prefer ebooks), City of Whispers is a moderate length book, without stretching out to the length of many epic fantasies. Powers has managed to balance an in-depth plot with great characters, world exploration and setting, and plenty of action sequences, while maintaining a fast pace. The result is a book that entertains as it moves through its story without ever feeling rushed. It is a book that manages to explore its overarching mystery while also packing it full of action sequences. While Dhani isn’t a character to pull her punches, this book doesn’t pull its punches, either; these sequences all flow beautifully while putting visceral action on display.

City of Whispers feels quicker than its page count suggests. While a large part of this speed can be credited to the pace the story moves at, it can also be credited to Powers’ prose. The writing is clear and flows wonderfully, making for a smooth reading experience. The book is fairly light on dialogue, which makes this relative speed all the more impressive. While some readers might find the unfamiliar words—many of which are location and character names that aren’t rooted in English—difficult to parse, I didn’t find that it slowed me down. Instead, I was constantly smiling from the sparkling wit and witticisms the author brings to the prose. City of Whispers is a serious story full of gritty moments, but the prose is imbued with a wonderful sense of humour, making it a delight to read, even if you’re not enamoured with its plot (although, I’m sure, most readers will be).

The humour the prose brings is through the eyes of Dhani, who serves as City of Whispers’ only point of view character. Although written in the third person, everything in the book is told from her perspective. She is a wonderful protagonist, flawed, morally grey, and absolutely hilarious. She is a thoroughly entertaining character who makes the reader smile, even during the book’s darker moments. The other characters populating the book are all thoroughly engaging, but as this is Dhani’s story told from Dhani’s perspective, they don’t bring as much to the overall book. The banter between characters is entertaining while the dialogue rings true. As there isn’t a great deal of dialogue, when used, it is not only impactful, but also sounds natural.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, City of Whispers is the first book in the Imperial Assassin series. While the book doesn’t tell a standalone story, its plot reaches a satisfying conclusion, so there’s no need to worry about the book not telling a complete story. It does plant seeds for later books in the series, promising more entertaining times to come.

As much as City of Whispers manages to touch upon both epic and urban fantasy, it also works well as a mystery, as a thriller, and as an action adventure. With a sharp wit seen throughout its prose and dialogue, wonderful characters, and such a beautifully realised world, it offers a lot to fans of any of those genres. With the second book, Valley of Lies due in September, I’m looking forward to where the author takes the series next.

Favourite Passage

A shake of her head and a roll of her neck failed to relieve the tension in her upper back or the scratchy tiredness behind her eyelids. As an assassin, forgoing sleep had been part of life—along with sweating, shivering, hunger pains, long hours of training and memorising details, bruises, scars, broken bones and occasionally, near-debilitating thirst. Right now, however, she felt like she’d been hit in the head with a sack of rocks. She picked up the chipped mug, inhaled the kaffai’s bitter aroma and cursed. Six months of suspension and you’re getting weak. You’re better than this.

Which was true.

City of Whispers: Imperial Assassin, Book 1, Chapter Twelve

City of Whispers: Imperial Assassin, Book 1 was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.

City of Whispers is available in both physical and eBook forms from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon).

Note: I do not post scores for reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews:

  • Amazon
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You can follow Katt Powers online, via:

Interested in purchasing City of Whispers?

Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.

City of Whispers: Imperial Assassin Book 1

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