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Monday, November 3, 2014

An Assassin Like You've Never Read Before

Several months ago, NetGalley sent me a pre-approval for a book called I Am the Weapon. I’d never heard of the book (maybe because the original title was Boy Nobody), but the blurb hooked me. Tell me this doesn’t sound awesome:
Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school in a new town under a new name, makes a few friends and doesn’t stay long. Just long enough for someone to die—of “natural causes.” Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, moving on to the next target. 
But when The Program assigns him to the mayor of New York City, things change. Somewhere deep inside, Boy Nobody is somebody: the kid he once was; the teen who wants normal things, like a real home and a girlfriend; a young man who wants out. And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program’s mission.
Let me just start by saying I’ve read about assassins before. Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series and Robin LaFevers’s His Fair Assassin trilogy are particularly well done. The bottom line: I’m all for an assassin main character.

But what struck me about Allen Zadoff’s protagonist—a teen boy who goes by Benjamin in the first book and Daniel in the next—is how cold and calculating he felt. I’m used to assassin main characters who have some qualms about killing, but Ben mostly keeps morality out of what he does.

He’s been stripped of everything that makes a 16-year-old boy a 16-year-old boy and is left with a single directive and the skills needed to reach his goal. He doesn’t have much of a personality—but it works.

The prose reflects this: It’s bare bones, with short sentences and quick chapters. Many paragraphs are a single line long. This doesn’t just kick up the pace, but it reflects Ben’s changing character (compare the opening of I Am the Weapon with I Am the Mission.)

That’s another thing I love about this book: the transformation we see in Ben. I so enjoyed being in his head that I was dreading the moment he embraced his emotions and became a “real boy.” But while Ben does transform over the course of the book (and during the second book, too), he doesn’t lose assassin personality. And that’s a good thing, because it was fascinating to immerse myself in the POV of someone who notices every detail and who analyzes situations in such a different way than most YA main characters.

It’s clear Zadoff did a lot of research because the details Ben reveals in his narrative feel natural and give pretty cool glimpses into the mind of a hired gun.

I know I’ve mostly talked about Ben, but that’s because he felt so different than other YA main characters, even other YA boys. That said, the plot is exciting and the ending surprising.

If you like the Bourne movies, you’ll enjoy I Am the Weapon. The sequel, I Am the Mission, is also great, and I can’t wait until book three releases next summer. Definitely a fast-paced thriller worth picking up.

Who’s your favorite YA assassin?

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