Thursday, August 11, 2016

Book Review: His Fair Assassins Trilogy by Robin LaFevers

We all know the old saying: don't judge a book by its cover. Well, in the case of Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassin series, it paid off for me. After all, who wouldn't be intrigued by a cover with a girl in an old fashioned red dress, standing in front of a castle, wielding a crossbow almost as long as her leg? 

LaFevers' series is historical fiction set in Brittany, starting in 1485. The first novel, Grave Mercy, follows Ismae, a girl whose father essentially sells her to a local pig farmer as a wife. On her wedding night, Ismae is rescued from her abusive husband by a local hedge priest and smuggled across Brittany to the convent of Saint Mortain. When she arrives, she learns that the daughters of Mortain serve the old Breton god of Death and are trained as assassins. After three years of training, Ismae's first assignment places her as the mistress to Gavriel Duval, a man in the service of Brittany's duchess, who is under suspicion of treason. Ismae has to discover if Duval is actually a traitor. And if he is not, she then has to figure out who is selling the duchess's secrets to the invading French.

LaFevers is a talented world builder. All three books in the series have a strong current of politics and war. I really liked Ismae as the main character in Grave Mercy. She is strong and brave, but has incredible demons that haunt her every waking hour. While Ismae does have a "superpower" because her father is the god of Death, she is forced to train before she is sent out on her first assignment. I like that LaFevers made Ismae more human by making her train, as opposed to Ismae waking up one day suddenly knowing the best way to kill a man. There are so many complex layers to this story and LaFevers' world that I cannot tell you all of them here. While some people may see that as a problem, the author does a wonderful job of touching on each layer often enough throughout the series that it is easy for the reader to follow along. 

There seems to be a trend in the publishing industry where a series of books is composed of multiple stories that take place in the same world but are told from the point of view of different characters. I'll be honest, I'm still getting used to this idea. When I finished Grave Mercy, I was expecting the next book to be a continuation of Ismae's story. Timeline wise, the second book, Dark Triumph, does pick up right where Grave Mercy leaves off. However, instead of a continuation of Ismae's story, the second novel is the story of one of Ismae's sisters at the convent, Sybella. And the third book, Mortal Heart, is told from another sister's point of view, Annith. This is one of the first series of books that I didn't mind the point of view change. All three of the novels in this series are one continuing story from beginning to end. The sisters show up in each other's stories often, and I loved the fact that in the third book, all three sisters fight together to preserve Brittany. 

As an adult, I really enjoyed this series. I would be cautious in giving the second book to a young adult, however. Sybella's story is very dark, and when it is revealed what she went through before going to the convent of St. Mortain, the events in her life even churned my adult stomach. Also, while these books are an adventure/historical fiction/supernatural/romance series, there is a lot of politics, and the politics are the core of the story. Unless a reader has a base interest in politics, they may not like this series. 

While the His Fair Assassin trilogy can be difficult to find in your local bookstore, they are definitely worth the hunt!

Emily spent yesterday helping her sister in law paint the nursery for her baby niece, which is why this review is a little late. She's really excited for World Con next week and hopes that she'll get to meet Kate Elliott and Tamora Pierce!

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