Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Purchase at: Amazon ◊ Barnes & Noble
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
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?
This is a historical fiction novel set in the late 1400’s and the political atmosphere is nothing short of a powder keg. The setting is in Brittany surrounding a Duchess who at the tender age of twelve has been promised to more than one royal as her father the Duke was seeking any allies who would assist him with deflecting the assault being led by France. Unfortunately the Duke died, left the child, now a Duchess, with many a suitor demanding her hand in marriage as was promised to them and France is still trying to take over Brittany. Love that this story is based mostly on true events. Love the fact that the Author has done her research because it shows in the writing.
The story starts out with a young child on her wedding day. I say child because she is 14 and yes this is historical fiction and that was not uncommon, but my review, she is just a kid and it is sickening. Ismae was sired by the god of death and has a marque on her back that indicates her lineage. You can guess that this leaves her with little options as her mother’s husband hates her and he is the one who sold her as a bride. Of course he did not sell her to a kind and gentle man. On her wedding night her husband discovers the marque and well things did not go over swimmingly. At her her worst moment Ismae is delivered to the convent of Saint Mortain (god of death) and there she learns that she can become a trained assassin and serve as a handmaiden of death. It is also here that we meet two of Ismae’s closest friends, although we do not get too much backstory on them…because they are apparently teasers for the next two installments in the series.
The description of her life at the convent is interesting but not a central focus. Obviously the religion is a central focus for her as she has dedicated her life with the goal of becoming a ‘sister,’ but I wish that there had been more emphasis on her training as I did read this book because I thought there was going to be some assassin bad-assery in this book. It would have been nice to see that character build up.
Ismae is now a grown woman of seventeen and ready to “cut her teeth” and get to killin’. In her role as a handmaiden of death, Ismae is instructed by the Seer of the convent how the assassination should be done. As a fail-safe so to speak there is also a death marque that is seen on the victims with the intended kill spot marked in an inky black color that only handmaidens can see. I think these extra details take it from strictly historical fiction to a little fantasy and I like it. Adds a nice element. Also, Ismae spends quite a bit of effort trying to find the marques on any person she does not like. It is hilarious and I love it.
After her second successful killing Ismae has a snag as a man discovers her only moments after she has disposed of the body. She heads back to give her report to the Abbess and in pops the man whom we come to know as Gavriel Duval. He is a Breton Noble and half-brother to the Duchess who has only one mantra in his life and that it to keep his sister safe. Or so the story goes. Duval has come under suspicion for having undue influence on the Duchess and the political tongue waggers are starting to think that he is trying to usurp the throne. The story mostly surrounds these three characters and the political shenanigans that happen at court and this is the point that all the other reviewers are talking about when they say that the book slows down because if you are looking for say assassinations and action you will find very little and what you do find is almost one-liners in description.
You will meet many supporting characters that are well placed but their character build up is almost one-dimensional. I did enjoy Ismae’s character and her development. She is determined, strong and a hoot. He eagerness to be an assassin and do her job well adds an almost comedic element to the book. Duval as a character and love interest was Jekyll and Hyde for me. As a character I thought he was wonderful. As a love interest it was not explained why he had any interest in Ismae. He was so utterly focused on his sister that he had barely anything else left over. I guess this worked well for the Ismae character because she never had “feelings” before and spent so much time denying them that a real romance would have made her toss her cookies.
There are no true plot twists and if you had your suspicions about the bad guy in the beginning then you are most likely right in the end. The story is a pleasant read and you will not feel as if you wasted your time by any means. For me the blind devotion throughout the story is a negative and is always very hard for me to accept, for any cause (religion, relationships, etc), because I am a huge fan of free will and thinking for yourself, so to say that I did some eye rolling is safe to assume.