His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers
|Book Name:||Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, and Mortal Heart|
|Publisher(s):||HMH Books for Young Readers|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||YA Historical Fantasy|
|Release Date:||April 3, 2012 / April 2, 2013 / November 4, 2014|
There are really only two words to describe this series.
That’s all you need to know.
Or, well, that’s all I needed to know to pique my interest.
This series covers the stories of three young women in France, during the tumult Anne of Brittany faced after her father’s death. The story begins in Grave Mercy, with Ismae Rienne, in the year 1485. After fleeing from both her father and her new husband, she finds refuge at the convent of St. Mortain, who is perhaps more commonly known as Death. At the convent, Ismae meets the other two women, Sybella and Annith, who are the protagonists of Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart, respectively.
Ismae spends three years at the convent, learning exactly what it is that the handmaidens of Death do, before she is given her first assignment. When she ventures out from the convent, though, she learns that all is not as it seems to be, and that life and death are not quite as black and white as she was told.
In Dark Triumph, we learn of Sybella’s dark past – and without trying to spoil too much, I will warn readers now that it deals with sexual abuse of minors and incest. It is not graphic, but it is present, so be prepared. Despite that, this book and the final, Mortal Heart, are tied for being my favorites of the series. Sybella’s story has echoes of a favorite fairytale of many – Beauty and the Beast, and is well worth the read for that alone.
Mortal Heart is the well-crafted conclusion both to the political backdrop of the story (if sped up a bit and slightly altered from the true historical happenings) and to the stories of the three girls. Annith’s story, to me, was the most enthralling of all. Out of the series, she is the character with the most to lose as she discovers that both her own past before the convent, and her life at the convent, are not what she has been brought up to believe.
From a technical standpoint, these books are absolutely beautiful. As much YA is, they are written from the first person point of view. These books go to the next level, though, and are also written in present tense. Have you ever tried to write in first POV-present tense? It’s hard. Really, really hard. These are flawless. There is not a moment where being in the protagonist’s head feels out of place or repetitive.
This series is one of the more unique ones I’ve read because some of the books have a slight overlap in the series of events, but it works beautifully since each book is told from a different point of view, though in the final book it took me some good brain-jogging to figure out what exactly was going on with the timeline of the political plot as Annith’s adventure was beginning. That said, there are two things that frustrated me about the series.
The first was book two, Dark Triumph. Rather, the very abrupt ending of Dark Triumph. There was very little in the way of a denouement for Sybella’s story. It went from inciting incident straight to climax, and as soon as there was an end for the climax…that was it. The book was done. I honestly had to hold the book up, flip through the last chapter, and make sure that there weren’t any missing pages. The abrupt ending is made slightly more bittersweet by the fact that Sybella’s character isn’t very prominent in Mortal Heart.
Mortal Heart is the game-changer of the series, quite literally, and it’s difficult to go into my only disappointment in the book without being too spoiler-y. So, be warned. These are probably only mild spoilers, but spoilers none-the-less, so continue reading at your own risk. If you don’t want to be spoiled at all, skip the next paragraph.
In Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph, Mortain reveals himself to Ismae and Sybella, and gives them roles to play, in a sense, in the mortal world. They are to be extensions of his mercy (Ismae) and his justice (Sybella), and the way it is revealed makes it seem like a very important aspect of the first two books, and sets up to play a role in the final book. In Mortal Heart, Mortain himself comes into play, and must make decisions about how much he will play a role in the conclusion of the story. The choice Mortain makes, though, leaves me wondering about how exactly Ismae and Sybella are going to be his mercy and justice, and why in the first two books it was played up so much when it has little role in the final book.
And those two reasons are why this series does not earn a 10-star rating from me, but only 9 stars. That said, this series is still excellent. The covers are gorgeous (They make my historical costume obsessed side squeal just a little. Okay, maybe more than a little.) and the characters are relatable.
And seriously. Assassin nuns. Read these books. You won’t regret it.