Tag: YA Historical

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.

Continue reading “Review: GRAVE MERCY – HIS FAIR ASSASSIN by Robin LaFevers”

Review: FIRE AND ICE (Wild at Heart) by Mary Connealy

51QN3RRqM9L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_FIRE AND ICE (Wild at Heart) by Mary Connealy / Bethany House Publishers, October 2015 – 3.5 Stars

Blurb: Bailey Wilde is one of the best new ranchers in the West. She’s been living disguised as a man for a while, but when Gage Coulter comes to drive her off her homestead, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with a woman–a very tough, very intriguing woman at that. Gage is an honest man, but he didn’t make his fortune being weak. He won’t break the law, but he’ll push as hard as he can within it. Five thousand acres of his best range land is lost to him because Bailey’s homestead is located right across the only suitable entrance to a canyon full of lush grass. Gage has to regain access to his land–and he’s got to go through Bailey to do it. Spending a winter alone has a way of making a person crave some human contact. In a moment of weakness, Bailey agrees to a wild plan Gage concocts. Can these two independent, life-toughened homesteaders loosen up enough to earn each other’s respect–and maybe find love in the process?

Review: Along with her two younger sisters, Bailey Wilde masqueraded as a man and served in the Civil War to please their obsessed, half-crazed father. Now, in 1866, she’s moved West and homesteaded 160 acres at the mouth of a Rocky Mountain canyon filled with lush grass for her cattle. The ability to claim the land comes as a benefit of her war-time, military service as long as nobody learns she’s female. This creates more than one problem since her claim actually doesn’t include the canyon or the grass, only the approach. The land she needs for her livestock is owned by Gage Coulter and since he also requires the grazing, he’ll deal as harshly as necessary with one stubborn nester. Much to Gage’s shock, the young man who gives him heartburn isn’t one and their struggles are just beginning especially after Gage uses dynamite to construct a new trail into the canyon.

After a harsh winter, Bailey will do anything to have the grass she desperately needs to save her herd of cattle. When Gage arrives in the spring with a proposal of marriage, she considers it. He needs a wife. She needs the grass. Besides his “cowboys” or “hands” know she’s a woman and if word leaks out, she could lose her homestead. Earlier in the series, Connealy made the facts of gender-based discrimination quite clear. While Bailey isn’t sure that a marriage of convenience will succeed, she hedges her bets by telling Gage that if she isn’t happy, she’ll leave and she wants the canyon signed over to her on their wedding day.

Trapped by the lie that he told his mother – i.e. that he’s married and happy – Gage reluctantly agrees to her conditions. With their vows barely said, he and Bailey plan to head for his ranch to prepare for his mother’s visit, but she arrives sooner than expected. Mama Colter loves her son and is nearly as obsessed with him as Bailey’s father is with her older brother. Their parents aren’t the only problem that Bailey and Gage face as they try to build a relationship. Cattle rustling and murder attempts only increase the tension.

This inspirational New Adult romance entertains without preaching, one of Connealy’s gifts as a polished writer. The characters will undoubtedly engage readers, but the story does have a few drawbacks. The biggest issue is that the book really doesn’t stand alone. In order to understand the complicated Wilde sisters, readers should have read the first two books in the trilogy. In addition it takes quite a while for readers to learn the year the story takes place. The location isn’t clear either – beyond being somewhere the snow is hip-high on a tall horse from late October to April, or springtime. Since the Rockies extend more than 3,000 miles, the novel could take place anywhere from northern New Mexico to British Columbia, although it becomes clear the setting is definitely in the U.S. It’s also in reach of a cattle drive from Texas since Gage brought his cattle from there.

Hmm, there’s another mystery or unanswered question. The thumbnail descriptions of the continuing characters don’t add depth to the ensemble cast. While Bailey’s father browbeat his daughters into joining the military because of their brother’s death, the reader doesn’t learn enough about Jimmy or his relationship with his sisters. For the most part, Connealy ties up the loose ends in the series and it’s a lighthearted romp through the Old West with the occasional hint that there could be something more. It doesn’t touch the heights or depths of the writing talent that Connealy displayed in my favorite of her books, The Husband Tree.

Review provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the May 2016 edition of The Book Breeze.