First Lines: I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to expel me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign that I have been sire by the god of death himself.
Just look at this cover. Soak in its awesomeness. I mean, how often do you get to see a girl in old-fashioned clothing carrying a crossbow? Women weren’t supposed to be skilled in weaponry back then. Of course, I’m going to assume there were many exceptions to this rule simply because there are always exceptions…and I really like to think that women have just always been awesome like that.
Ismae just barely manages to escape an arranged marriage that would have killed her. She is taken to the convent of St. Mortain. Death himself, if you will. It is there that Ismae finds her true purpose as a handmaiden of Death. As a trained assassin, Ismae kills those who are betraying her country and thus her god Mortain. But she is quickly pulled into something more dangerous than that: Breton court politics. Someone is betraying her country, Brittany, to the French. Ismae is assigned to work with the mysterious Gavriel Duval, an influential member of the court, to discover the traitor and kill them. But it’s harder than she would have thought. And what happens when Ismae is ordered to kill the one person who has stolen her heart?
I hope that adequately describes what this book is about. It’s a mammoth at over 500 pages, but it’s so worth it. I fell in love.
So the first quarter of the book or so, about 100 pages, was kind of weird. We’re thrown right into what’s happening and that’s hard when you’re thrown almost 520 years in the past. It takes a little getting used to. Also, I was deeply unsettled by the convent, and maybe that’s just me and my religious beliefs. Some of the things they said/did just did not sit well with me.
Once Ismae joined the court politics, the story quickly picks up. We are thrown into a world where appearances are everything and secrets are more deadly than Ismae’s poisons. It was a thrilling adventure from then on. While there wasn’t always a lot of action, there was always someone to spy on or a little slip of the tongue that changed the game.
The characters were quite an intriguing bunch. From the unyielding Ismae to the cunning Duval, the characters made the story. The duchess was a strong young girl that quickly becomes admirable. Those most interesting, of course, were those in court that were openly against the duchess yet had to disguise that. It was always so interesting to see those that Ismae didn’t like because there was scrutiny placed on them (by her). It highlighted their personalities and made them more real…and usually more disagreeable. Which is so fun when you’re reading but really awful in real life.
I really have nothing to complain about. I was quickly sucked into the story and fell in love with the time, the characters, and the politics. I cannot wait a whole year to get my hands on the sequel.