Mortal Heart: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The sum and total of who I am and who I will ever be is already contained within me.”

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFeversSired by Death himself, all of the girls at the convent of St. Mortain are blessed with gifts from their godly father and tasked with carrying out his dark work in the world. Annith has watched her sisters come and go from the convent of St. Mortain, all the while waiting patiently for her own chance to serve Mortain and leave the confines of life in the convent behind.

After years of proving herself the perfect novitiate, after passing every test, Annith’s future outside of the convent is less than certain. When she learns that the abbess wishes to groom her as the next Seeress, Annith knows it is time to strike out and choose her own path–wherever it might lead–in Mortal Heart (2014) by Robin LaFevers.

Mortal Heart is the conclusion to LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin Trilogy. It is preceded by Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph.

Like its predecessors, Mortal Heart works largely on its own since Annith is a new narrator and the arc follows her. The larger events of 1488 Brittany and the young Duchess’ struggles to hold onto her country continue as do the machinations of the Abbess.

Although there is a lot of overlap between these books in terms of their timelines, Mortal Heart is the first time readers truly get to know Annith as more than an extremely skilled and obedient novitiate of Mortain. However, Annith soon reveals that she has quite a bit of grit. Even without special gifts from Mortain like her closest friends, Ismae and Sybella, Annith is a fierce protagonist who is not afraid to seek out her own path.

Readers of the first two books will anticipate a certain order of events to this story. While many expected elements (and familiar characters) do feature here, Mortal Heart still has numerous surprises to keep readers guessing (or, more accurately, gasping in surprise).

As always LaFevers delivers a well-researched historical fantasy as well as a detailed author’s note separating fact from fiction and outlining the actual historical events featured in the novel. This book is well-plotted with a perfect balance between new story and tying up elements from the previous installments in the series. Mortal Heart is an expertly written conclusion to a delightfully clever series. The only regret readers will have is realizing that the series is truly over.

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2014*

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

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Dark Triumph: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFeversNantes, Brittany, 1489: Trained by the convent of St. Mortmain in the arts of death and seduction, Lady Sybella is no stranger to killing or spying. Even before learning she was a daughter of death and coming to the convent, Sybella had done much of both to stay alive.

Over the years Sybella learned to harden her heart until even she begins to believe she has none. She dreams of revenge and justice, the day she will become a divine instrument of vengeance when she can kill the traitorous Count d’Albret.

But instead of her desired mission of vengeance, Sybella finds herself acting as a spy in d’Albret’s household, a dangerous mission for anyone but even more so given Sybella’s past. Her formidable array of weapons and skills may not be enough to escape this living nightmare. Not alive anyway.

Mortmain has already rejected Sybella twice, though, so death is hardly an option either.

Sybella is trapped until new orders arrive from the convent.

A prisoner is locked in d’Albret’s dungeon. The prisoner is of extreme importance to the young Duchess of Brittany as she struggles to hold onto her kingdom and keep d’Albret and his ilk at bay.

Sybella is only meant to initiate the prisoner’s departure. Instead, she is swept into the escape as a reluctant nurse and travel companion. This one change thrusts Sybella into an entirely surprising direction–one where her life may not have to end in order for vengeance to be served. Stranger still, Sybella may learn there is more to live for than the promise of revenge, or even justice, in Dark Triumph (2013) by Robin LaFevers.

Dark Triumph is the second book in LaFever’s His Fair Assassin trilogy, preceded by Grave Mercy (with the conclusion, Mortal Heart, due out in 2014). (She is the author of several middle grade novels including my beloved Nathaniel Fludd books as R. L. LaFevers.)

There is a very satisfying overlap between the plots of Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph. It’s also becoming clear that the books are building together to an epic finish. That said, I really think Dark Triumph could work as a standalone. It doesn’t have to. And it’s certainly better to start at book one. But if you really wanted to, Sybella’s story stands on its own quite nicely.

I didn’t realize how much I loved this improbable series about assassin nuns until I finished Dark Triumph. As great as Ismae’s story and voice were, Sybella’s is better. Dark Triumph is a grittier read with sharper edges but also more satisfying outcome. As LaFevers points out in her author’s note, the story takes many more historical liberties. Happily, the atmosphere and language remain.

I also enjoyed the expanded view of Mortmain. Sometimes I have problems with books that deal with some kind of “faith” because they veer into the territory of conventional religious dogma. LaFevers artfully shifts the theology of His Fair Assassin into a different direction. Reading about Mortmain never feels like reading about a god or even religion. He really feels like a father. And I appreciated that nuance.

Sybella is an angry, broken narrator who is at pains to convince everyone that she has no heart–especially herself. Dark Triumph is the story of her own healing as much as it is a stunning historical fantasy filled with action and intrigue. I can’t talk about some other aspects without spoiling both books, but the way Dark Triumph comes together with Grave Mercy is impressive. I also adore these heroines and their male leads. These books, right here, these are what true partnerships look like.

Dark Triumph is a surprising, original read sure to appeal to anyone who likes historical fiction, journey-based fantasies, or a damsel who rescues herself (and maybe the prince while she’s at it).

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Throne of Glass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. MaasAfter a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier, assassin Celaena Sardothien knows better than to expect glad tidings when she is summoned at sword-point.

Much to her surprise, the Crown Prince Dorian has come to offer a deal: her freedom in exchange for acting as Dorian’s champion in a competition to find a new assassin for his father, the king.

Celaena has no love for the king and no desire to work for him. But freedom is a tantalizing thing after a year in Endovier and one competition is a small thing to come between Celaena and her freedom.

While her rivals in the competition are as unimpressive as she expected, court life is duller than she could have imagined. The boring castle particularly chafes when she is kept under lock and key by the Captain of the Guard, Chaol Westfall, who acts as her trainer when he is not watching her like a hawk. (As if he could stop her escape if she really set her mind to it!)

Then again, Celaena could still be working in the salt mines.

Just as the assassin is beginning to appreciate how easy her new life can become, one of the other contestants turns up dead. And then another. Are the murders to do with the competition? Or is something darker at work somehow tied to the disappearance of magic from the kingdom? If Celaena wants to make it to the end of the competition with her freedom and her life she’ll have to do more than win–she’ll have to find a murderer in Throne of Glass (2012) by Sarah J. Maas.

Throne of Glass is Maas’ first book. It is accompanied by a slew of e-book prequel/companions and was work-shopped years before publication online at the FictionPress community.

I came to Throne of Glass after a few disappointing reads that had left me wondering if I’d ever see a believable strong heroine again. While this book has other flaws, lack of a strong female character is definitely not one of them. Even when she is being obnoxious and brash Celaena is a capable, entertaining heroine (albeit one with a somewhat unlikely skill set at the tender age of eighteen).

Overall Throne of Glass is a decent if unexceptional read. Maas creates an interesting world that mostly makes sense. Time will tell if holes in the landscape come from lack of world building or lack of proper explanation in favor of plot suspense.

The story is on similarly uneasy footing: the story begins presenting Celaena, the competition, and her training with some back story mysteries from Celaena’s past thrown in to taste. About a third of the way in, we get the strange addition of a murder mystery, a magical secret, and an unsatisfying love triangle.

I am never partial to books that change the story direction midway through, but it was a minor point since Celaena was so very likable. I could even overlook the painfully forced romantic scenes with Dorian and Celaena because it was so very obvious that Chaol was the superior male lead.

Then the mystery got thrown in.

Aside from being heavy handed right from the beginning, the mystery angle of the story was poorly handled. Celaena missed obvious clues. She jumped to conclusions. Worse, Celaena doubted not only the only character who had ever been unconditionally kind to her but also the singular minority* character in the story. Thus, in order to move the plot forward readers were presented with this clumsy change in Celaena’s personality.

Throne of Glass sits somewhere between high fantasy and more action driven stories. The premise is clever and Maas’ writing is lively. Readers who can look past everything to do with the sloppy mystery sub-plot will be rewarded with an enjoyable heroine in a somewhat disjointed but generally exciting narrative.

*Minority is a funny thing in a fantasy. Here what I mean is that Celaena and the kingdom where the story is set are predominantly white from what readers see. The “minority” character I mention is from a foreign kingdom and is described as having brown skin.

Possible Pairings: Roar by Cora Carmack, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*