Audience: Ages 14+, Grades 9+
Series: His Fair Assassin Trilogy (1)
Awards & Honors: ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults (2013).
Genre: YA Literature, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
Setting: Kingdom of Brittany (Celtic Nation); Guerande, Brittany; France, Middle Ages; 1485-1488
Synopsis: 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?
(synopsis as seen on goodreads.com.)
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
My thoughts: Based on various reviews I had read about this book, I was pretty certain that I would enjoy it... historical fiction plot with a twist of fantasy and a bit of romance -- right up my alley. However, I wasn't planning on being completely blown away by it! I used to be the type that could finish entire books in one sitting (like when Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix was released, I was disappointed it took me TWO sittings to finish it, simply because it took SO long to read!) However, as of recently, I tend to get antsy and really don't spend more than an hour reading a book, (except audiobooks -- they allow me to multitask, or else I'm driving). Don't get me wrong, I still love reading, I just do so in much shorter spurts.
So, needless to say, I absolutely loved this book. And the critic in me feels extraordinarily strange saying this, but after mulling it over, I simply can't think of a single bad thing to say about this novel. Yes, it was 550 pages... and every single page of it was well-used and fantastically written. Right from the start, I was completely sucked in by the plot -- it didn't drag for a second.
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I particularly loved how realistic this fictional account of medieval history is. The novel is set in 15th Century Brittany, during a period of independence from the French and much of this novel is actually based on historical events and people. Anne of Brittany, was indeed a real person, and I loved her character in the book so much, I was intrigued to find out more about the real person behind the character. She was a very young girl who did in fact, inherit the duchy her father had previously fought for at an incredibly young age, at a time when women did not often inherit kingdoms. The tensions between Catholicism and those fighting to hold on to the "old ways," like the worship of pagan deities were well portrayed. Even though the convent of St. Mortain, and of course, St. Mortain himself do not actually exist in Celtic mythology, there is truth to the religious tensions and the author's perspective seems incredibly realistic for the era. I'm by no means proficient in history, (I mostly know my history through the lens of literature and theology), but, I felt the author did her research and created an excellent, historically accurate, narrative.
As far as the fantasy element -- what a truly, fun, unique idea! What ruler wouldn't want to have assassin nuns serving the god of death (as ironic as that is...haha), fighting to keep his or her lands safe?! The fantasy portion throughout the novel is fairly light, only existing through mythological gods and some barriers being torn down between life and death. Very distinctive and a welcoming change to teen literature.
And of course, as with any book that I generally love, the characterization was exceptional. I loved the main character in all her eagerness to prove herself and she learns some very important lessons by the end of the book. She really grows into her character throughout the novel. The supporting cast of characters was just as excellent... the male counterpart for once was actually well developed, believable, and admirable (something that seems incredibly difficult to come by in ya literature). Even the awful characters in this story were written so vividly. The romance and relationships between characters in this novel (which can so often become the focal point or just awfully tacky in YA) were very well crafted and descriptive, and so much more realistic-seeming than what I'm used to reading. Tensions, insecurities on both sides, and real reasons for distrust made this a slowly built romance bud and had me routing for them -- and it became in important component of the plot while never over-powering it. In my opinion, the entire book was tastefully written.
I don't want to give anything major in the plot away. If you like historical fiction and don't mind the small element of fantasy intertwined, you must read this book. It's suspenseful, humorous, memorable, politically intriguing, and I just thoroughly enjoyed it more than any book I've read in awhile. The very end may seem to have been wrapped up a little too neatly, but honestly, it seemed more like a "calm before the storm", especially given the fact it's a trilogy. Even if you don't like young adult literature, it's highly sophisticated and the teen characters behave much more adult-like in the novel than in modern day set novels. I think this title is one of those crossover titles that will easily appeal to the teen and adult audience alike. Recommended especially for fans of historical/medieval fiction, ages 14+.
Originally posted 1/17/2014 by Katie at Katie's Korner