Source: purchased + e-ARC via Netgalley (thank you, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for providing me with this free e-copy in exchange for an honest review; this was a “read now” title on Netgalley, along with the sequel, Dark Triumph, as the final part, Mortal Heart is coming soon).
Genre: YA historical fantasy.
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? (Goodreads)
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My rating: 3.5/5.
This was actually a re-read for me, as I’ve bought and read the book when it first came out, but now I spotted it (and its sequel) on Netgalley and decided to give it another try, because I wasn’t too impressed at the time but now I kept seeing such good reviews around the blogosphere. And I’m glad I gave it another shot! I even changed my rating from 3/5 to 3.5/5! ;) This was meant to be a mini-review, but I think the book deserves more.
I liked the historical setting with a slight touch of fantasy that LaFevers cooked up here. I don’t know whether the historical facts are totally accurate or not, even though I had some French history at the University. I never was very good at remembering the political stuff. But it’s fun to read about – the intrigues are complex but not overwhelmingly detailed, so the main storyline is never obscured by irrelevant data. This is a difficult balance to achieve!
I find it hard to understand, though, why authors insist on using pseudo-historical language in fantasy novels with a historical touch, especially when the language spoken in that country would never have been English! Here, we’re set in Bretagne, so it makes no sense whatsoever that Ismae sometimes talks like she escaped from a bad romantic novel. Furthermore, even if it was English they were speaking, it was a totally different language in the 15th century, so there’s that. Such language always manages to kick me right out of the story…
I would have liked to read more about the training of the assassin nuns (yep, you read that right), as the process of education is outlined on a couple of pages and then we re-enter Ismae’s story three years later when she’s sent on her first killing mission. But I guess we can’t have everything and the author chose to focus on the courtly intrigue/romance instead.
There are some nice pieces of writing in the novel, however, and I liked the characters and the plot, so I’d recommend this to anyone wishing for a nice YA historical fantasy. While Ismae is somewhat slow in accepting that her convent’s orders aren’t all that innocent, she’s a cool girl underneath it all, and goes through a steady process of empowerment that I enjoyed. Gavriel is a particularly fine protagonist as well, and I salute the fact that there’s no insta-love or love triangles in this story!
Favourite line: “We serve as handmaidens to Death.” (so cool.)
I’m currently reading the second part of the series, Dark Triumph (stay tuned for the review), and then I hope it’ll be good enough for me to go on to the last one!!
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Have you read this one? What did you think?
I’d love to hear your thoughts! :)