Ah. This book. This is my official favorite book of all time. I dare anyone to prove me wrong.
It’s a borderline obsession. Maybe not so borderline, actually. I have reread this book so many times that I have lost track well into the thirties. And that was over a year ago.
That’s right. I’m dedicated. That’s the lie I tell myself everyday.
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage to the respite of the convent of St. Mortain. Here she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts and a violent destiny. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. But how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who has stolen her heart?
Alright then, I’m just going to say right now that this book is historical fiction about fifteenth century France. So, if historical fiction and French history repels you, you may not think this book is the greatest. That being said, I do not think you have to be knowledgeable about the topic to enjoy this book. I did not even know that the setting, Brittany, was a thing until I read this book. It is heavily political without being boring.
Ismae: She is one of my favorite characters of all time. What I specifically enjoyed was her growth through the book. Some characters, while they may be good characters and enjoyable to read about, are fairly static throughout the book. Ismae, on the other hand, is very dynamic, starting off as a naive girl who blindly follows and develops into a free thinker, able to formulate her own ideas and sticking to them even when everything she has been told goes against this. I believe this to be an admirable trait, and she serves as a role model for her readers.
Duval: I don’t think I am giving anything away when I mention that he is the main love interest in the book. One could comprehend that just by reading inside the book cover (which is different from the above listed description). I absolutely adored Duval. He has a point other than his relationship with the main protagonist (freaking finally, am I right fellow YA readers?) and he is very smart, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and has a dry sense of humor that I very much appreciate. You know what, just read the damn book, then you’ll understand. Duval is one of those characters one must experience first-hand through the story.
Anne: As the heir to the Breton Duchy, Anne is under tremendous pressure for someone so young (she is twelve or thirteen during the events in the book). She is trying to manuver against France and keep power with the duchy, while aso trying to marry a husband with enough power to secure Brittany. Needless to say, Anne is very mature for her age, poised throughout the book, even in circumstances where people twice her age would crack. Sometimes, especially around her little sister Isabeau, she is more like other children and has a sense of humor similar to her half-brother Duval. The relationship between Duval and Anne was also very well done. I think she may be a little too mature for her age, but given the time period her actions are a bit more realistic.
Beast and de Lornay: These characters were introduced as Duval’s friends near the beginning. I really loved Beast, with is kind and likable demeanor, but I did not really like de Lornay. That is, until the end. I will not give anything away, but everything wraps up very nicely.
Chancellor Crunard: A shadowed character if there ever was one, from the beginning not much is known about Crunard, at least from Ismae’s perspective. As more facts are brought to light, Crunard becomes more and more integral to the plot. I will stop here, to avoid giving anything away. Just go read the book, damn it.
Count d’Albret: d’Albret is the main antagonist of the book, and he is pretty f*cking slimey. Sometimes I would read his descriptions and just cringe. I mean, read this line
He is tall and fat, and a brisly black beard covers his face. Amid all that blackness, his lips stand out like wet pink slugs.
The slug thing creeps me out. While not particularly subtle or complicated, d’Albret is a very real threat in this novel and his schemes thicken the plot significantly.
Sybella and Annith: While not mentioned much in the book, Annith and Sybella influence Ismae and help shape her into the person she is. Without the help of Annith and Sybella, I doubt that many of the things that played out in the book would have occured. The next two books in the trilogy, Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart, follow their storylines, so check those books out for more information on Sybella and Annith.
The Abbess: The Abbess is one of those people you hate becuase of how bitchy they are, but you can’t help but admire just how bitchy they are. Even though you know she is on the ‘good’ side and she is the abbess of the convent Ismae follows, she is a hardcore bitch but is so damn good at it. She twists people words and corners them so adeptly that it is really awesome and irritating at the same time, especially for Duval.
You’re either going to love or hate this writing style. It’s first person, present tense (not that uncommon), but the language is more antiquated, even when discussing Ismae’s thoughts. The perspective of the book is limited to Ismae, so we don’t get any other POVs or outside information. I liked this aspect because the entire point of the book is Ismae’s journey through emotion and the era; knowing all the plot twists and throwing in anachronisms in general would just be distracting. Sometimes the writing can be a bit choppy and the timing of events questionable, but nothing glaring enough to detract from the novel as a whole.
I really liked the cover, but even I have to admit that it is a bit generic. Not too much, mind you, but it’s nothing very new. That being said, it does accurately portray what the book will be about (the crossbow even specifically pops up in a few seens) without gilding the lily.
I know that this book isn’t perfect. I know that it has flaws and that some people may not like it. Even still, it is definitely my favorite book because it is unique. I feel like so many books these days, especially in YA, are so bland and overdone. Too many carbon-copies are being shipped out via assembly line to be bought up by fifteen-year-old lonely school girls.
It is set in the 1400s in Brittany, France (who honestly knows where that is in middle school if you don’t live there?), the main character challenges the established mind set and religion not because she thinks that everything needs to be revolutionized, but because she cannot personally dedicate herself fully to the task, and the main love interest is not some asshole, generic guy with no other purpose than be hot (Ismae even notes that he isn’t super handsome) and hold the protagonist down. Everyone in the book, with a few exceptions, just felt real. Christ, this book made me research the history and politics of Brittany. If it could do that, it’s some pretty powerful shit.