*I was assigned this book for phase 1 of SPFBO 8*
I absolutely loved this book, and you should read it. Here's why.
The Assassin of Grins and Secrets is immersive and captivating from the first chapter to the last. The worldbuilding, plot, characters, and themes interweave quite seamlessly, one not being sacrificed for the other.
It follows the story of Serein, who we find in captivity fighting in the coliseum. She has scars on most of her body, a testament to the hard life she's been dealt. She was once known as the Grinning Assassin, lethal and feared, but now enslaved. Initially it's a bit unclear why she is in captivity, but as the story progresses, it's unfurled. What I appreciated was that there was very little info-dumping. Serein has a very distinct voice, is sarcastic and snarky, with some laugh-out-loud one-liners. She is likable, flawed, compelling... everything you want from a main character. The supporting cast are just as well-written, from a prince who doesn't act like a prince, to a moody guardsman hiding a heart of gold.
Serein is bought by Rameses, a prince who is intent on her joining his bodyguards. Serein is suspicious of his motives, and as it turns out, he does have an ulterior objective. She goes along with it to gain her freedom, and along the way, they become friends of a sort. Rameses is without guile, an affable sort of fellow who gets along with everyone, cares about people, and wants what is best for his country. On the flip side, his father is a despot. Serein has her own reasons for despising him, and she herself has ulterior motives for going along with Rameses plans. Then there is Uriah, Rameses best friend and guardsman, whose tough exterior is hiding wounds of his own.
The twists and turns of the plot keep the reader engaged. There are action scenes interspersed with compelling character development and world building, dialogue that isn't stilted or stunted, and as mentioned above, humor to keep things from getting too dark. What I found interesting was that there was more than one antagonist, with plot threads that kept me guessing, without getting too confusing. Also... a pet tiger. Yes, please. Thank you.
Ultimately, this is a book about the indomitable power of the human spirit, friendship, and the lengths someone will go for those they love. I love SPFBO for so many reasons, and finding gems like this book is one of them. Do yourself a favor and bump it to the top of your TBR piles!