If you were looking for such a book there actually is a perfect one out there: soon to be two perfect books and eventually three. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers is due in April and is the second book in the His Fair Assassin series. One of the HMH reps talked about it at Winter Institute and I was keen to read it even though I hadn’t read the first book. I read the first chapter of Dark Triumph with a sinking heart, because arg (!) I knew immediately I was going to have to go back and read, Grave Mercy, first (HMH, $9.99). While not necessarily a bad thing, I am on a mission to read through all the ARCs I picked up at Winter Institute. Instead, I’ve spent the past couple of days engrossed in LaFevers’s books and can barely get my brain to concentrate on anything else. These books are page-turners, to be sure. I’m still trying to decide if they are good or guilty-pleasure good. But who cares, because they are good and despite occasional anachronisms LaFevers, has clearly done her research, which I always respect.
In Grave Mercy, Ismae has lived a rather difficult life at the hand of her odious father, who tried to have her expelled from her mother’s womb. He resents that she lived in spite of his efforts. Fortunately this back story is summarized rather quickly and we can move on to the interesting part: when Ismae is transported to the convent of St. Mortain to train as an assassin. Again, LeFevers demonstrates her story telling acumen by giving enough information about Ismae’s time at the convent to provide a flavor of her training and introduce characters who become important in later books, but does not dwell too long on the details of Ismae’s education. Once again the story gets even more interesting when Ismae is sent out on her first assignment. Set in 15th century France, back before it was France, this series is filled with politics, old-world religion, intrigue, adventure, and not a little death. Ismae and the handmaidens of death are sworn to protect the young duchess of Brittany. From whom or what becomes complicated as even the duchess’s closest advisors have their own ideas about the best way to thwart the growing threat of a French invasion, and all the while another threat is already lurking inside the castle walls. Ismae is smart, interesting, and thoughtful. She is caring, but never weak. She is more than what the convent has trained her to be. She is Death’s true daughter.