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

Grave Mercy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversBrittany, 1485: Ismae bears a deep red stain from her left shoulder to her right hip–a tangible reminder of the herbwitch’s poison that her mother used to try to expel Ismae from her womb. The poison didn’t work. Proof, according to the herbwitch, that Ismae was sired by the god of death himself.

Even without her wicked scar, Ismae’s parentage would be a burden to bear. Fearful of the wrath of Mortmain everyone tolerates Ismae’s presence but little beyond that. Her life is not one of comfort or compassion. Not until a priest gives Ismae one small kindness that will forever change her life.

Taken from a brutal arranged marriage, Ismae is spirited across Brittany to the convent of St. Mortmain–a sanctuary where women like Ismae, her sisters of Mortmain, work to execute their god’s work throughout Brittany.

Staying at the convent will mean a new life. One where Ismae will be trained as an assassin to serve as a Handmaiden of Death. The decision, of course, is an easy one. After being the prey of others all her life, Ismae is more than ready to be the hunter.

The life she chooses and the training are simple. At first.

After Ismae completes her first assignment for the convent several complications arise. Thrown together with a man she cannot trust and little likes, Ismae finds herself at the center of Brittany’s tangled politics as the country’s young duchess struggles to hold onto her tenuous authority. The more Ismae learns about her country and her own heart, the less she understands about her teachings at the convent. Soon Ismae will have to decide if she can follow the will of her god while also following her own heart in Grave Mercy (2012) by Robin LaFevers.

Grave Mercy is LaFevers’ first young adult novel. (She is the author of several middle grade novels including my beloved Nathaniel Fludd books as R. L. LaFevers.)

While the setting and language make for an immersive read, Grave Mercy takes a bit of time to get to the core plot not only starting years before the main story but also leading with tangentially related pieces of Ismae’s training at the convent and her assignments. Readers expecting immediate action might be disappointed though rest assured patience will pay off in the end.

Ismae, though sometimes frightening in her fierceness, is an engaging heroine as she makes her way through the labyrinths of both Breton politics and the inner workings of her own sisterhood. LaFevers handles the complicated matter of faith versus service well as Ismae works reconcile her own wants with her duties as a Handmaiden of Death. Although the latter part of the story drags as LaFevers works to resolve several plot threads, the tension is high enough to make up for it. Ismae’s personal journey remains compelling throughout.

Filled with intrigue, murder, and more than a few shady characters Grave Mercy is a definite page turner even if some shocking revelations are not so shocking when finally revealed. An excellent choice for fans of Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief books or an alternative/follow-up to Kristin Cashore’s novels. Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy but this book works just as nicely on its own.

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