A mix of Fantasy and Historical Fiction
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
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Let me just start by saying that the historical research LaFevers did to write this book was extensive and incorporated into the world very well. The worship of the Saints, the creation of Brittany as a ‘hot spot’ for both England and France, the idea of marriage alliances, the language used, and the details on all of Europe during this time really made it easy for you to pinpoint the time frame and feel like you were there. I have a Bachelor’s in History- it’s my thing, and the main reason I picked this book up, and, yes, the history nerd in me did love this aspect of the book. You’d think with how much I loved all of this that I’d continue gushing on about how amazing it is- WRONG.
Despite everything I loved about the history and world-building, I could not get past how unbelievable and incredibly boring the main character, Ismae, was. I mean, she has the backstory to be this dynamic lead female, but, no, everything she does goes against it. The premise is based on Ismae escaping a horrible abusive life from her father and the man she was sold to for marriage. We are not talking about a couple of smacks here or there; we’re talking 14 years of systematic abuse, both physical and emotional at the hands of her father- a man she naturally should be able to trust (an element that should drastically affect her). However, when she emerges from the convent a mere 3 years after escaping this life, she does not have the inner turmoil you would expect from someone who survived this kind of abuse. You just do not suffer through that and not have some lingering effects even if it’s just internal. One example- when Duval, who is still a relative stranger to her at the beginning of the book, grabs her by the elbow unexpectedly and firmly, she doesn’t have the natural internal response that someone who’s been abused would have like a flutter of nerves or cringing; instead, she is “appalled” that she has to even deal with this man, and what was the convent thinking making her work with him? I don’t care that she is now an assassin- have you met Celaena Sardothien? Adarlan’s assassin? If you haven’t, that’s perhaps why this element of Ismae’s life didn’t bother you, and Celaena’s past-life situation wasn’t near as horrendous as Ismae’s. It also just wasn’t believable to me that she was like a school girl smitten so quickly after escaping this life- one would think she would want nothing to do with men for a good long while.
A few other bothersome details (that I, again, might be alone in)- why did the convent send a novice assassin on a mission that holds the fate of the kingdom (or, I guess, “duchy”) in its hands? Why treat her as a Sister who has completely taken her vows when she has not (aka giving her ‘the Sight’)?
what was the point of basically this whole chapter? He literally repeated the same information to different characters. I’m guessing it was to create the idea that Duval is on her side, but there were so many more opportunities for that that I felt like this part was wholly unnecessary. There were many parts in the first 200-250 pages of the book that felt a lot like this- why is it in here?
So, I feel alone in the fact that I didn’t care much for this book because I read a number of good reviews and had numerous friends tell me it was ‘dry at the beginning, but it gets really good’, and they were correct- it does get really good.. at the end… like the very end… However, I think I would have described the beginning as completely ‘arid’ rather than just ‘dry’ because you really find yourself wondering ‘what was the point’ of a couple of those chapters. The last part of the book was the only thing that saved this for me because it was what you truly thought you were getting when you read about the idea of a book that’s about assassin nuns. It was fast-paced, interesting, and your favorite people were actually DOING THINGS instead of just standing around talking about the same information OVER and OVER again. I’m still hesitant to continue reading this series because I don’t think I can stomach another book that’s as dry as this one mostly was…
“People here and see what they expect to hear and see.”
“There is no shame in scares, Ismae.”
“… true faith never comes without anguish.”
“Are men truly such idiots that they cannot resist two orbs of flesh?”
“Perhaps that is because you mistake death for justice, and they are not the same thing at all.”
Even though I didn’t really care for this, you might- other people have LOVED it… I mean it was a series, and there’s a new book coming out, so maybe you’ll like it… maybe it gets better. One day, I might finish out the series, but it’s not high on my priority list which is already too full as it is…
- Grave Mercy (2012)
- Dark Triumph (2013)
- Mortal Heart (2014)
- Courting Darkness (expected 2019)
- 5th book expected (As a Duology with Book 4)