This book was one of those brilliant fantasy novels where I didn’t have a recourse but to savour its heftiness like I would feast at a sushi buffet. At 549 pages, I wanted it to go on and on and on…who wants to wait next year for its instalment? I say it’s a cruel and unsual punishment for readers to be left at where it ended. Don’t get me wrong, the plotline and conflict were resolved. It ended where it should be. I just think that the wait for Sybella’s story would be painfully longer.
The story begins when she was sold off to an abusive man (I’m glad that this part wasn’t really drawn out). She was saved by the same priest who married them and was then whisked away to the convent of St. Mortain. It was there that she trained to be an assassin and to serve as handmaiden of Death. Three years later and she received her biggest assignment yet – to protect the Duchess of Brittany from the French and to those who wished to dethrone her. The job wasn’t easy; especially when the number of untrustworthy courtiers begin to rise. And at the forefront of them all was Gavriel Duval, trusted adviser to the Duchess, a man who could incite some conflicting responses from Ismae. When the order from the abess to kill him came through, Ismae was left to face the severity and weight of what she must decide upon. Would she neglect her true role as Death’s handmaiden and follow what her heart was saying all along? Or would she ignore all her doubts and kill the man whose steadfast loyalty has always been with his half sister?
Obviously, I loved this book.
Ismae was reminscent of Katsa and Fire from Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series; strong female characters who are driven by their own unselfish agendas. And even though they were puppetered by some forces in the beginning, in the end they were left to decide what was right and wrong. Liking Ismae was easy enough; after all, there’s been such a shortfall of genuinely strong female leads lately. What I loved most about her was her propensity to own her new role in life right off the bat. She didn’t wallow or played the victim too long. She used her smarts for the most part. However, my girl Ismae, strong though as she might’ve been, was still powerless to the charms of a strong male counterpart. I know, I know. You’re probably saying, how the heck could I consider her strong if she can’t even resist the brooding Duval? Well, come on people, this is romance. If she didn’t feel a spark or a moment of ‘tingling sensation’ whenever Duval helped her off a horse, I probably wouldn’t even continue on reading. Well, okay. Not really. I’d still read it but I’d be less enthused about it.
As far as I’m concerned though, I thought that the romance between Duval and Ismae was muted and appropriately so. It was a substory and not the focal point. Besides, I liked that their relationship evolved slowly.
The world building, though pretty basic in correlation to some of the historical fantasy that I’ve read so far, in my opinion was sufficient enough. And in any case, I was more interested to hear more about a group of assassins acting out their orders from a religious entity. In the end, it wasn’t as mystical as I thought it would be. I’m left with more doubts that essentially contributed to why I’m jonesing – HARD for the next book.
Verdict: Political drama in a court setting, assassination plots, education in the art of poison, knights, feisty females, romance and intrigue. Heck, it had me at the title. This book would have you so involved in the story that you won’t even realize you’ve read a good chunk of it. If you have an aversion to historical and all the things that it connotes to then you probably won’t enjoy this. I, for one, fell in love with the setting, the language and it doesn’t help that knights on horses is a weakness of mine. So yeah, this was a shoo-in favourite of 2012 so far.