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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Review: Assassin of Reality - Marina and Sergey Dyachenko


Genre: Fantasy

Published: Harper Voyager 2023, originally published by Эксмо in 2021 in the original Russian.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars


“How does one formulate the order “Do not be afraid” without the negative particle “not”? “Be brave,” Sasha whispered.”


I’m slightly devastated, but I can’t say that I’m surprised... Considering the type of book Vita Nostra is, and the type of reader I am, there was a decent risk of a sequel not living up to the love I felt for the first book. Regardless, curiosity beat trepidation in the end and I picked this book up. I don’t regret doing so. I had a good time with Assassin of Reality, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the raging fire that is Vita Nostra.


Reviewing a sequel without completely spoiling the first book is often a challenge, but especially so with a book that introduces so many reality- and mindbending concepts as Vita Nostra, on which Assassin of Reality builds on. In Vita Nostra, we follow then 16-year old Sasha Samokhina, as she enrolls in a mysterious, possibly arcane university, not quite by choice of her own. What follows is part magic-school-fantasy, part unsettling dark-academia, part bildungsroman and part exercise in philosophy, following Sasha’s first three years at the Institute of Special Technologies. And it’s absolutely brilliant!


Assassin of Reality picks up exactly where Vita Nostra left off: following Sasha from her final third-year exam through her 4th year at The Institute. Expectedly, it’s more of the same that we’ve already seen: more metaphysical shenanigans, more student-teacher-rivalry, and more discussion around language in a deeper exploration of the magic-system. There is even a new element of romantic love, that feels somewhat fresh. What is missing, however, is what made the first book exceptional.

Again, without spoiling it entirely, in Vita Nostra , Sasha works towards an important metamorphosis in her third year. Her development along that journey was the best part of the novel for me. Sasha grows from a student, feeling out of place in this academic adult world that feels almost alien to her (very relatable to many young academics!), to a capable adult. That strong character-arc is absent in Assassin of Reality. Even more so: some elements of her character-arc are undone by the events at the start of this book, which I really didn’t like as a plot-choice. Details below the spoilertag at the bottom.

Another strength of book 1 that was missing here, was that sense of mystery and “insecurity”; of not being able to fully get your footing in this strange world. With the deeper exploration of the magic system, it loses that feeling, as well as the ability for the reader to interpret events for themselves. Within the first book, there’s a discussion about multiple realities/interpretations and how all of them can be true at once. Much of the magics ambiguity perfectly matches that. That resonance is lost now that the true nature is spelled out for us. I personally liked that ambiguity, and that freedom to look for answers myself.


To me, Assassin of Reality is the ultimate 3-to-3.5 star sequel: it doesn’t add much to my love for Vita Nostra, but it doesn’t subtract anything from it either. Vita Nostra worked perfectly well for me as a standalone, and didn’t truly need a sequel. Depending on the kind of reader you are, and the elements you liked in book 1, your milage with this one will vary.


You can find this book here on Goodreads.

Spoilers below this line:

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I really didn’t like the fact that the whole plotline with Valentine, Sasha’s mum and their baby was done away with as “just an illusion to your academic growth”. I think this family dynamic added a lot of growth to Sasha’s character, and I was actually invested in her relationship with her mum and baby-brother. To have it taken away like this felt a bit like a cop-out.

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