Mortal Heart – His Fair Assassin – Book 3 by Robin LaFevers, HMH Books for Young Readers, November 2014 – 5 Stars
In the powerful conclusion to Robin LaFever’s New York Times bestselling His Fair Assassins trilogy, Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.
She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind, doesn’t mean she has.
Annith watched her friends, Ismae and Sybella leave the convent of St. Mortain to confront the enemies of their country and ruler, Duchess Anne while staying behind. When will it be Annith’s turn to go to battle? One of the nuns, Sister Vereda who has the ‘Sight’ and foretells the future has fallen ill so she can’t be depended upon to help Annith gain her freedom and face her destiny. To her dismay, she overhears the Abbess tell another nun that she, Annith will be the next Seeress who sends out the Handmaidens, young students, on their deadly quests.
Being locked up for the rest of her life frightens Annith and she decides to fight, to do whatever she needs to do to escape this fate. A skilled assassin, the best in the convent with a bow, a knife, on a horse or the ground, she doesn’t believe her future lies behind the walls of St. Mortain’s. She prays for aid, careful not to tell the Abbess or other nuns that this godlike figure the women serve isn’t a secret to her – she actually ‘sees’ him and remembers previous conversations with him. Of course, this spiritual information would only cause the women in charge to ‘know’ Annith ought to be the next Seeress regardless of her protests.
Discovering that the recent change in expectations for her comes from the mortal authorities, not Saint Mortain leads Annith to escape. She forges a note from the Abbess, currently gone on a trip to court, collects food and weapons ~ her is the bow and arrows, then steals her favorite horse and heads off to connect with her friends. On the journey, Annith meets up with a group of unearthly riders known as the ‘harlequin’ who find the recently deceased and escort them to the Underworld or possibly Limbo. Their leader, a warrior known as Balthazar intrigues her. She finds herself joining the band for a while, but not quietly. She wants to know more about the members and interviews them.
Through Annith’s narrative, LaFevers explains the ‘harlequin’ want to help the ‘lost souls’ because it shows there is ‘rest for all souls eventually’ even for them. As they travel closer to their destination, she becomes increasingly drawn to Balthazar and wonders if this is the first time they’ve met. Choosing to investigate further, she discovers he has the arrow she crafted for her ‘god’ during a holiday celebration. While unsure precisely why he has the gift, she seizes a sudden opportunity to escape the ‘harlequin’ and this decision becomes the catalyst for more conflict in the future, especially when she learns that another handmaiden failed, dying on her maiden mission.
In Rennes, Annith reunites with her friends and confronts the Abbess about Mateline’s death, but more mysteries remain to be solved. Since Mortal Heart is the culmination of the trilogy, LaFevers has several unanswered questions from the previous books to resolve. Ismae’s and Sybella’s leaving the convent becomes one of the largest conflicts that Annith faces especially since she’s sent to complete a lethal assignment – killing Chancellor Crunard. While enroute to the city where he’s imprisoned, she faces Balthazar yet again. She must decide if she’s found a mortal or immortal man to love and what will be the cost of her choice?
More twists and turns abound, but the pacing never slows in the turbulent plot. The setting is as well-developed as that in Ismae’s and Sybella’s stories with all of the details from that historical period. Characters from the earlier works continue to evolve. As before, LaFevers effectively utilizes her heroine’s point of view to narrate the story. Readers never lose sight of Annith’s clear perspective, creating a wonderful resolution to a terrific adventure.