Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3), by Robin LaFevers | political and spiritual and still badass

20522640Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.

She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind doesn’t mean she has…

Expecting Mortal Heart to be the most ordinary of the His Fair Assassin series was a grave mistake, and while many signs point toward that expectation, this book contains more surprises and twists than the first two books combined. Dark Triumph still triumphs over it in certain elements, but that one and Mortal Heart both put Grave Mercy to shame. In fact, I can barely remember Grave Mercy.

LaFever’s writing is still sophisticated but never overbearing. It’s always served as some sort of hindrance throughout the series for me because there is such detail to go with the slow pacing, but I admire it anyway. Brittany’s political affairs and increasing turmoil are continued in the story, one of the most fleshed out elements in the series as a whole. I think it’s amazing that LaFevers can create such a layered political plot in a fantasy and still keep it somewhat understandable. While Grave Mercy was more dramatic and romance-heavy, and Dark Triumph was darker and psychological, Mortal Heart is certainly focused on the mythology and spiritual side of the series. There is more talk about the Nine Saints and we even learn about their interconnections and their individual followers. I’m usually not that into mythology, but the vastness and depth of LaFever’s world has made me a fan. Annith’s connection with the Nine and Mortain himself is expressed so poignantly as well, and it is definitely the best part of the book.

Annith totally took me by surprise. I had initially expected her to be the most ordinary heroine (now I think that honor goes to Ismae), but after going through all these trials and tribulations with her, she is on par with Sybella’s complexity. Her story is vastly different from the others (in more ways than one) and the amount of emotion and passion in her character was expressed well. While her personality does not come off as vibrantly as Sybella’s, she is still an incredibly relatable and admirable character, and I loved her growth from the start to finish of the book. Like I said before, her story is largely focused on the spiritual and mythological part of the His Fair Assassin world, and while I can’t reveal too much about it due to spoilers, the amount of twists and turns in this aspect are crazy. Her backstory is fully explored too and it only makes her character even more fascinating.

There is a romance, one that I was not completely on board with at first. Many reviewers say that it felt random and outlandish, and I did have to agree with them even if Annith and her love interest were pretty shippable. However, as the story goes on and Annith’s relationship with her lover fluctuates and grows, wow, it totally makes sense. If I say anything more I would be spoiling, but how LaFevers handled this romance is just amazing.

This series’ writing and pacing can put me in a difficult position at times, but there is no denying the complexity involved in the His Fair Assassin world, characters, and relationships. In the midst of the political, mythological, and romantic discussion, LaFevers still masterfully keeps up the badass vibe of our leading ladies while exploring the psyche of nearly every remaining character. Apparently there are two more books coming out in this series, which confuses but excites me. I’m totally looking forward to reading those and whatever LaFevers decides to write afterward.

-Haven

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Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Dark Triumph, by Robin LaFevers

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4.25 stars

I lean forward, pushing my body out past the battlements. The wind plucks at my cloak, buffets against me, as if it would carry me off in flight, just like the birds or the knight’s soul. Let go, it cries, I will take you far, far away. I want to laugh at the exhilarating feeling, I will catch you, it whistles seductively.

The convent has returned Sybella to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?

It seems as though many who came into this book regarded Grave Mercy as a disappointment, and I can understand that. Personally, while I had my complaints, I thought Grave Mercy was pretty good effort, but after reading Dark Triumph, I immediately wanted to change its 4-star rating to 2. It’s true! I was told Sybella’s story was compelling, but wow. WOW. I think this is the most visceral reaction I’ve had to a character/backstory coming from a fantasy book, and a historical fantasy book at that! I wanted so badly to give it 5 stars, but due to a few problems I’ve experienced in Grave Mercy as well, I reduced my rating a tad. Nevertheless, Dark Triumph is one of the most enjoyable and painful (in a good way) fantasy releases I’ve read in a while.

As Grave Mercy was told in the perspective of Ismae, Dark Triumph tells the story of Sybella, another handmaiden of Death, after the duchess of Brittany has successfully escaped and found refuge in the capital of Rennes. Sybella, however, still stays in the castle, where she was sent to from the convent a while back with a promise of killing D’Albret, her cruel father and villain of the story. As Sybella painfully adjusts to her old life and looks to gain information on D’Albret and his future plans to capture the duchess, she receives orders from the convent to release the Beast Of Waroch from his imprisonment, into Rennes, to help protect the duchess and fight in the inevitable battle. As Sybella unknowingly gets dragged into Beast’s journey, she discovers a plethora of secrets about the upcoming battle she will have to face, or battles rather. Battles involving politics and court intrigue, battles with the convent, battles with her past, and most importantly, battles with herself.

I adored the writing, as expected. It’s sophisticated and quite formal, very similar to the what the actual speech in the 1400s could have been, but it is constantly brimming with life and never boring. The conversations are never forced or feel fake to create drama (and in this book, there is a lot of drama but it’s not necessarily a bad thing), which explains the wonderful character writing, specifically pertaining to emotion. Unfortunately, Dark Triumph suffers the same problems that Grave Mercy did, and that is, the slow pacing and unnecessary amount of long, dragging paragraphs. While I think this book is much more cohesive and has better flow than its predecessor, I still believe that Sybella’s story and the turmoil of war and a broken nation could have been told without the amount of description overpowering the dialogue.

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Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

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4 Stars

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Claps for me! I have finally crossed off this book on my to-read list after nearly a century, and I’m happy all that waiting was worth it. I’ve had a crapton of perceptions before reading this book, and was worried that it wouldn’t match my expectations. But, while there were some flaws I cannot excuse, Grave Mercy turned out to be an enjoyable, satisfying read.

The story starts off with Ismae Rienne’s background, as we learn that Ismae was nearly “claimed by Death” when she was born through a severe illness, which had consequently caused a long, red scar across her back. We encounter a scene where Ismae’s cruel and abusive father forcefully marries her off to an older man, and where Ismae is whisked away to a convent which serves the god of Death, Mortain, after her wedding night. The beginning briefly but wisely introduces us to the purpose of the convent, where the assassin nuns assist in killing and carrying out the tasks that the nuns assign them to, directly from Mortain himself. This scene takes place when she is about fourteen, and then the story skips to a 17-year old, fully trained Ismae on a mission. The main journey of the story starts after she is assigned to pose as the mistress of Gavriel Duval, half-brother to the duchess of Brittany, as they travel to protect her from a dangerous impending marriage. While she assists Duval, she is under orders from the convent to keep watch over him. But, as she learns about the court and the history of her convent under different perspectives, she realizes she is truly unknown to the motives of St. Mortain’s convent and Mortain himself, caught between who to trust and who to not trust.

I think a historical fiction junkie would really dig the world-building. The mythology is influenced by Celtic and Roman history and myths, while the world itself is well thought out. On the other hand, I would definitely say the writing and pacing of the story is meant for a certain kind of reader. I’m mainly a character-based reader and am not particularly fond of politics and history-based reads, but the discussion and court intrigue in Grave Mercy was pretty interesting and understandable. It wasn’t so hard to follow and the writing was delightfully middle-English inspired. Unfortunately, the pacing is quite slow and the writing is bound to lose a few readers along the way. I actually contemplated docking 0.5 of a star or a full one even because of it, but considering my liking for the world-building, characters, and story, I decided against it. But, just a warning, if you aren’t patient and don’t like a lot of discussion, the pacing, writing, and overall story can really grate on you.

Continue reading “Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers”