Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2012)
Hardcover (549 pages)
Also by this author: Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart
Also in this series: Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart
Reading Challenges: Read 2015
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?
Find the book: Goodreads
I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book and I found that I really did. I tend to like historical fiction so that was amazing. Then there was a strong character that I actually cared about.
This story is Ismae’s story. She is treated terribly until she finds sanctuary at the convent of St Mortain. There she learns that she is a daughter of Mortain, the old god of death. The sisters at the convent serve the god of death as assassins, killing those who bear the marque of Mortain.
The convent’s liaison with the court of Brittany is Crunard, the duchess’s chancellor. He raises suspicions about Gavriel Duval. When Duval himself comes to the convent to complain about the targets of some of Ismae’s assignments, he agrees to the abbess’s request that Ismae enters his household to serve the convent’s interests at the Brenton court.
So Ismae enters Duval’s household playing the role of his mistress and is extremely distrustful of him. The more Ismae learns of Duval, the more she begins to question the convent’s decisions. Through Duval, Ismae meets the twelve year old Duchess Anne of Brittany and her sickly younger sister Isabeau.
I enjoyed reading of Anne. She acts so much older than twelve. Most of my students I cannot imagine having the strength she does. She is trying so hard to make the best decisions for her country to keep it free from France as well as avoid having to marry the horrid Count d’Albret. She cares deeply for her younger sister and she trusts her half-brother, Gavriel Duval, without question.
Ismae becomes friends with the duchess. I think part of it is because Anne likes Ismae’s honesty. Ismae is also kind to Isabeau which I think means a lot to Anne.
Ismae herself if pretty awesome. In her years at the convent of St Mortain she has learned about poisons and different ways to kill someone. On top of that, she is immune to poison and can speak with souls of the recently dead. That is pretty awesome.
Gavriel Duval is exceptionally devoted to his sister Anne. He puts her above anything and everything else. I love that he doesn’t hate his younger half-sister because she is the heir of Brittany. He really could have resented her and worked against her at every turn. But he doesn’t seem to even though his mother wants him to.
In order to analyze the text and make these connections, there may be some spoilers.
Please do not continue reading unless you have already read the book
or you don’t mind if you read some spoilers.
Isame’s conscience comes into play quite a bit here. She is having to make her own decisions for the first time. Previously she had her father making decision for her and later she was following exact instructions from the convent of St Mortain. For the first time, Ismae is having to make her own decisions about who to trust and what to do. She is making decisions to stay true to herself and what she thinks is right, her conscience.
This book also speaks of mercy. There is not just justice and vengeance as taught by the convent of St Mortain. There is also mercy. There is Ismae’s mercy when she releases souls from their dead bodies with a knife called a ‘misericorde’ which, coincidentally, is Latin for mercy. There is mercy when Ismae spares the life of Madame Hivern. There is mercy when Ismae refuses the convent’s order to kill Duval. And there is mercy when Ismae spares Crunard in favor of the duchess’s justice. Mercy is an important lesson in this book just as mercy is an important teaching in the Church. Without the mercy of God we would all be condemned to the hell we deserve for our sins against Him. Instead, God in His great mercy offers us redemption through His Son. God’s mercy is truly amazing.
Then there is Duval who is falsely accused of treason against the duchess. Instead of fighting this publicly (as he knows he will likely lose) or allowing himself to be arrested, Duval goes into hiding. He continues to do all that he can for his sister even if only a handful of people can know that he remains at the ducal palace. He takes to hiding an living in the palace’s secret passageways. This reminded me of the “priest holes” as they were used in England during the right of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. Catholic priests went into hiding. They were better able to serve the faithful by staying out of jail (or being martyred) and so they hid in the private homes while ministering to the remaining faithful Catholics.
- You Read How Many Books? Reading Challenge