Author: Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date: April 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction
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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?
The first thing that everyone says about this book is ‘assassin nuns’! Well, I’m going to say much the same, because guess what, assassin nuns are cool. In this YA historical fiction, we get a smartly-plotted tale that handles murder and treason as well as honour and romance.
The book lived up to its fantastic premise: set in the duchy of Brittany in the Middle Ages, it follows the story of Ismae, as she seeks sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain. Unlike most girls, Ismae, a daughter of Death, has been blessed with the power to resist poisons and unlike normal convents, St. Mortain trains its girls to be assassins. There was humorous irony in the fact that a convent was teaching the arts of killing and seduction, but the author does such a great job with the authenticity of her historical setting that it was believable. LaFevers also managed to make the fantasy elements sit comfortably within the time period as an old religion serving old gods, which lent a sense of realism to the story.
Sent on a mission to the royal court, Ismae plays mistress to Gavriel Duval, the queen’s half-brother. The Duchess Anne sits precariously on the throne struggling to decide which suitor is best for her and her duchy’s battle for independence from France. I enjoy a good power struggle, and this book had plenty of it with every member of court trying to advance their own political agenda. When Ismae takes it upon herself to discover the threat to the Duchess’ throne, every well-developed character is a suspect.
I admired Ismae’s growing sense of self and conviction, as she is torn throughout the book between her loyalty to the convent and her affection for Duval. Mysterious throughout the book, Duval’s true agenda is unknown so there was a real sense of danger about their relationship—that it might end at either of their own hands. Their scenes simply sizzled with chemistry which eventually developed into genuine emotion. It was truly satisfying to follow their slow-burning love.
At the risk of spoiling it, let me just say that I liked how Ismae found her own way to follow Death’s path for her. The book resolves nicely, wrapping up her and Duval’s story, but it is part of a wider series which will follow some of the other girls from the convent we got a glimpse of in this book. I for one would’ve loved more about Ismae but I will happily read the next book in the series. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and fantasy alike.