Review: MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers

51szrPzZtOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Mortal Heart – His Fair Assassin – Book 3 by Robin LaFevers, HMH Books for Young Readers, November 2014 – 5 Stars

Blurb:

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.

 Review:

 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.

Review: DARK TRIUMPH – His Fair Assassin by Robin LaFevers

51OahoGngaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Dark Triumph – His Fair Assassin – Book 2 by Robin LaFevers, HMH Books for Young Readers, April 2014 – 5 Stars by Shannon Kennedy

Blurb:

Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?

 

Review:

In this second installment of the His Fair Assassin trilogy, Sybella came to the convent of St. Mortain already a killer, half insane from the demands of her power-mad father who intends to steal the throne from the rightful ruler of Brittany, thirteen-year-old Duchess Anne. Forced by the convent to return to his castle, Sybella does her best to undermine him while she waits for permission from St. Mortain to kill him. When D’Albret tries to force Anne to marry him, Sybella determines to do anything to protect the girl, not simply because of her age and innocence; Sybella knows her father murdered all six of his previous wives including her mother.

Damaged by her past, Sybella may be a flawed character who longs for death at times and is angered because Mortain constantly denies her. Rage is the one quality that she consistently portrays and yet she also has an inherently kind heart which she vehemently refuses to admit. She pities those who stand up to her father and die for their principles yet she also attempts to help whoever she can to escape him, even if it’s only two orphaned household servants. Readers will want this poor, pathetic teenager to live, to learn that there is hope and she has a chance not only for peace but also for a happy, decent future, but how can this happen in her desperate situation?

To complicate matters, Sybella receives orders from the convent and the abbess to rescue Sir Benebic, the Beast of Waroch currently trapped and tortured in her father’s dungeons. She is to return him to the court of Duchess Anne. During this dangerous hunt, Sybella also discovers the extent of her ‘father’s’ horrendous plans. D’Albret intends a gruesome death for the valiant soldier and plans to send pieces of the man’s body to the teenage ruler. It’s a measure of her integrity that Sybella decides if she can’t get Sir Benebic out of the dungeon, she’ll grant him a merciful death, much kinder than the hanging, drawing and quartering described so effectively by LaFevers.

Using the means provided by the convent, i.e. drugs that cannot only kill but also the garrison of soldiers to sleep, she bribes the night-soil man for his cart. However, she doesn’t expect the so-called, Beast of Waroch to knock her unconscious and take her to Duchess Anne’s court with him. The journey lasts several days and Sybella finds herself drawn to the giant, battle-scarred warrior. It is symbolic of LaFevers’ skilled writing that she never allows her heroine to find the ‘Beast’ a super handsome, brilliant hero. Instead, Sybella consistently reminds herself of his physical flaws. When she insults him, he laughs, finding her more amusing than she appreciates. He also respects her lethal abilities. She’s as skilled with her daggers as he is with his sword which comes in handy when they’re forced to confront their pursuers. To her amazement, Waroch wants to protect her from her evil relatives, a new experience for a girl who has always defended herself.

Sybella lacks Ismae’s innocent belief in the convent, its leaders and the saint or god of Death. Because of her dysfunctional upbringing, Sybella doesn’t trust anyone and often feels betrayed since she was promised that her father, D’Albret has been ‘marqued’ for death and she will have the opportunity to kill him, the reason she returned to his environs. So, it comes as no surprise to her that when she and Waroch arrive at the Rennes and the royal court, the abbess plots to ruin any chance of peace Sybella may have found. With the country at war, she may be the only asset they have to spy on her traitorous father and Waroch may not have enough influence to keep her safe.

Fifteenth century politics become the backdrop for this unusual young adult alternate history. As before the setting of this book adds to the depth of the novel. Ismae and Duval are integral to the plot and it’s wonderful to watch their romance continue to unfold. Some readers may have trouble with Sybella and the Beast’s unconventional love story. His attempts to protect her aren’t ‘PC’ for our time, but remain historically accurate. Her unwillingness to share everything she knows creates conflict, but is perfectly understandable considering how much guilt she feels over the past.

Another problem may be her incredible ‘warlike’ abilities. She has an intriguing skill-set when it comes to killing others. Unlike most teen protagonists, Sybella doesn’t hesitate to dole out death and feels no particular emotion toward her victims. They get what they deserve. An odd element is that neither she nor Beast exhibit much survivor guilt or PTSD symptoms. They are warriors determined to see the war through to its end and hopefully they will win both life and love in the process. However, there aren’t any guarantees and these two characters accept that more easily than readers may.

On Monday’s blog – Review of Book 3 MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers

Review: GRAVE MERCY – HIS FAIR ASSASSIN by Robin LaFevers

519KJVvvQ8LGRAVE MERCY – His Fair Assassin – Book 1 by Robin LaFevers, HMH Books for Young Readers, March 2013 – 5 Stars by Shannon Kennedy

Finding new authors – well, new to me, that is ~ was one of the benefits of hitting the 2016 conference circuit last year as a writer, editor and reader. One of my most amazing discoveries was Robin LaFevers and her fabulous trilogy about teen assassins in the Middle Ages who are determined to put a young girl on the throne of Brittany.

Described as historical fantasy, this series is grounded in a little known era when twelve-year-old Anne of Brittany inherited her father’s throne and held it despite constant upheaval and betrayal from her so-called supporters, as well as dealing with the French regent’s, another woman’s attacks. Somehow, Anne managed to win despite the fact she was in charge of an unstable kingdom, had an empty treasury, and several wanta-be husbands who only wooed her for the country she ruled.

Fantasy elements include the worship of the “9 Saints” ~ former gods now being incorporated into the organized religion, something that historical authorities claim the Catholic church did when it absorbed pagan religions in unconquered nations. In the Brittany of this series, the saints are still worshiped as Gods, especially St. Mortain whose acolytes are raised and trained as warriors from the time they arrive at the convent.

Most of these girls have survived traumatic births ~ where their mothers die ~ and the result is frequently some sort of immunity, such as the first heroine, Ismae’s ability to withstand poison, or the second, Sybella’s sensing heartbeats/life-forces of anyone around her, or Annith’s ability to talk to the ‘dead’. In addition, these young, teen assassins see a ‘marque’ or stain on the faces of those doomed to die and that ‘marque’ gives them permission to kill the evildoer.

LaFevers effectively incorporates other fantasy elements into this trilogy, moving each story forward. Nothing is extraneous and the world-building is often reminiscent of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series. Everything seems so believable, even when Annith rides with a troop of dead soldiers led by a man who isn’t what he seems.

Review:

Seventeen-year-old Ismae Reinnes faces an unusual destiny when she flees a forced marriage and runs to the convent of St. Mortain, the god of death, now considered one of the ‘nine saints’ of the church, but she knows better. During her stay, she trains to become an assassin with unusual skill in poisons – her gift since she is apparently immune to them – and is told that the saint actually ‘sired’ her so she is considered not only his handmaiden, but also his daughter. Set in 15th century Brittany, this story incorporates the historical background of the Middle Ages when truth seems stranger than fiction.

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