Author: Robin LaFevers
Publication Date: 4/3/12
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Blurb(GR): Why be the sheep, when you can be the
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?
I may have a few mixed feelings about this book, but I know exactly who to recommend this to. Do you love historical mysteries? Court intrigue? Romance? Very light fantasy? Do you love Juliet Marillier? Sherwood Smith? Do you wish that The Queen’s Thief series read a lot more like a romance novel? Then this book is absolutely for you.
Ismae is a young teenager when she’s sold in marriage to a much older man. Her father is happy to be rid of her, but her new husband doesn’t know that she bears a large red scar on her back - a scar that marks her as one of Death’s daughters. He is less than pleased (read: murderous with rage) when he discovers the mark, but Ismae is rescued by a hedge priest and bundled off to the convent of St. Mortain, the god of death. Soon she is in training to be a handmaiden of death, skilled in espionage and murder.
This book reads a lot like a romance novel, but I really enjoyed that about it. The romance between Ismae and Duval is slow-building, believable, and pretty smoldering. I was a bit surprised when the book finally seemed to be getting to “the good stuff” and then it pulled one of these:
Boo. Apparently this is a young adult novel! Which is unfortunate because it reads so much like an adult romance, and I think that it would be better if it embraced that a bit more.
My only huge disappointment is that Ismae suffers from what I am now going to refer to as “Driven Snow Syndrome” (because I see this so frequently that it deserves a label): she’s the kind of character who says, “I’m not a normal human being with a sexuality; I’m a woman.” That is, until one special man comes along and then suddenly it’s, “What are these FEELINGS that I keep having? Why is my heart pounding? Why are my loins quivering?” She startles like a little bird every time he touches her, and she’s conveniently skipped out on the “womanly wiles” classes at the convent so she has absolutely no knowledge of what sex is even about. Ladies, isn’t it enough that men have spent centuries pretending that our sexuality doesn’t exist and over-valuing our “purity?” Do we have to do it too? Come on.
It’s also a bit unbelievable that Ismae would be a competent spy/assassin/seductress, and yet have no knowledge of court etiquette, social nuance, or male-female interaction. Not to mention…she has a giant SCAR. How is she supposed to insinuate herself at court as someone’s mistress if she can’t undress in front of anyone?
Still, Ismae completely charmed me. I love her snap decision making and wild leaps of tangled logic. I love her awakening and growth as a person. I love that she’ll dangle out of a window to eavesdrop on someone.
I also really love the mythology: the god of death and all his forms…the convent of assassins, for god’s sake! I love that I had some serious doubts about Ismae’s “calling” and she addressed every single one. I’ll definitely be reading the companion novels as they come out!
Perfect Musical Pairing
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing
Finally, a book that actually warrants this song (or at least, that's what I inferred was happening behind the closed curtains). This almost makes up for the complete lack of visible sexytime. Almost.