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GRAVE 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.
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.