Ismae has always been an outcast in her village, and particularly reviled and abused by her own father. The reason for this is the scar she bears across her back – the result of a failed abortion attempt – that everyone sees as the mark of the devil. Ismae is sold to an ogre of a man to become his wife, but is saved and whisked away to a convent. This is no traditional convent however, this convent worships the patron saint of death, Saint Mortain, and Ismae is told that she was sired by none other than Death himself. Ismae is then trained as an assassin: she learns to fight, to defend herself, to mix deadly potions, and basically to kick ass in all areas. When a possible threat to the queen’s life arises (Queen Anne of Brittany – this is where the historical fiction comes in), Ismae is tasked with travelling to the capital with the queen’s half brother, Gavriel Duval. They are to work together to thwart the traitor to the queen, against both of their wishes. What comes after is a mix of action, drama, espionage, and some romance.
This book was a hell of a lot of fun. I had actually forgotten the premise when I got around to reading it, the title had just stuck in my head from so many recommendations, so it was a treat to go in blind and get caught up in Ismae’s world of intrigue. The plot summary on many sites makes it sound like an entire book about assassin nuns –which are involved – but it’s really more about Ismae growing up and finding her place in the world she knows. And it doesn’t hurt that she does a lot of ass kicking along the way. There are quite a few players in this book, and some not very subtle chess references, but it all makes a very intriguing story. I knew fairly early on who the traitor was, but thankfully this story stands on its own and is more than just a whodunit (or who-gonna-do-it, I suppose).
The one complaint I have is that I wish we had gotten to see Ismae’s years of training at the convent. It literally goes from her accepting a place at the convent to three years later when she is a fully trained assassin. There are more books planned in the series, so I assume the author held off that part of the story to be told in a later installment, but it really did take away some value from the story. We are told she is best friends with Sybella and Annika (I’m about 99% sure this isn’t the correct name of the character but it’s been awhile since I read it and the internet is shockingly unhelpful in this matter) but we don’t get to see that, and I think that is a truly missed opportunity in her book.
This book ran a lot more along the historical fiction line than I was expecting, but it was well paced and developed and though it is technically YA, it reads much more like an adult novel. This has a sort of Graceling feel to it, though I can’t pinpoint why. Either way, that one complaint aside, this was an excellent book and I definitely recommend it.