FicCentral received a free copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (via Netgalley).
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 3rd 2012
Genre(s): Historical Romance (YA)
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?
Ismae is being force into an arranged marriage. Her father is a cruel man and he sold her. See her mother tried to cast her from the womb and she survived but with a huge red scar on her back. This scar indicates she was born from the God of Death, St. Mortain. That she is a special person marked to do the will of the God (she’s immune to poison which is pretty awesome). However this scar makes her an outcast in the village. People tend be afraid of superstitions that involve death.
Luckily, Ismae is rescued from her husband but the priest that performed the marriage and sent off to the convent of St. Mortain where she quickly learns it is more than just a regular convent. It houses assassins, women who serve Mortain. They are trained in a hundred ways to kill a person that has been marked for death.
After three years of training, Ismae is sent on mission that sends her into the royal court of Brittany to protect the Duchess. The French is trying to take over Brittany and the Duchess, Anne, is being betrayed at every turn. She is to pretend to be Anne’s bastard brother Duval’s “cousin” (read: mistress). The convent thinks Duval is the traitor, Duval thinks just about everyone at court is untrustworthy. She must figure out the truth and kill the person(s).
Sounds pretty cool, right? Well. Sorta.
Let’s start out with what I liked. Ismae! Ismae is a freaking badass. She knows her way around poisons, she can kill a man without ever breaking a sweat. She is pretty handy with a crossbow, has a bracelet that contains a hidden garrote, and a mystical dagger that releases people’s souls with the slightest touch. Ismae is extremely distrustful of men, her father beat her regularly and if she had stayed married, he probably would have beat and raped her for the rest of her life. She’s fairly smart and I love her character growth. She starts to see value in people she previously thought unworthy.
Duchess Anne is another great character. She’s 12 and probably smarter than me. She’s very strong willed and understands that responsibilities she has to her country. She was a good friend to Ismae and Ismae was a good friend back.
Duval, well nothing in particular stood out about him but that doesn’t make him a bad character. He’s a bit of the typical YA leading man, smart, sexy, broody. She loves Anne dearly, though and would do anything to protect her.
I also loved that, though you know from the get go there is going to be a romance between Ismae and Duval, it’s very slow building. No instalove. They take their sweet time falling for each other. I loved the historical aspects with a tiny bit of mythology/paranormal when it comes to the Gods and St. Mortain. The side characters are all well thought out and each have a distinct personality.
What didn’t I like? Well, it’s far too long for the story it’s trying to tell and it’s very slow. It book doesn’t really hit its groove until about 40% in. I was pretty bored with the beginning and almost gave up a few times. Ismae barely kills anyone. I know that sounds weird but you’d think in a book about an assassin, there would be actual assassinations. The book became more about political maneuvering and romance than anything else. Damnit, give me a book about a female character that’s badass and I WANT to see her skills.
Though I did like that the love story was something that was built up to, instead of BAM THEY LOVE EACH OTHER, parts of it definitely annoyed me. Ismae (the trained killer!) becomes a quivering flower when Duval so much as touches her arm. I understand she has issues with men (and rightly so!) but she can slit a man’s throat without batting an eye and then she goes completely weak in the knees when Duval looks at her. I felt like the two things don’t mesh. Plus the fact that she conveniently missed all the “Womanly Arts” classes at the convent so she becomes this shy thing during any intimate moments.
Except when (and this part really irked me) (also MINOR SPOILER) she has to have sex with someone to cure them from being poisoned. Wait, what? That part was unbelievably ridiculous to me.
So overall, it was an alright book. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it either, once the book found its groove, I was all in. I definitely recommend if you love historical fiction with a bit of romance thrown in. The next book is about another girl from the convent, so I’ll probably check it out, I’m interested to see other POVs in this world.