Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
This is one of the most beautiful stories I have read in a long time. The writing was delicious and lyrical. The story was captivating and I could not put the book down. I honestly carried it around with me and would read it anytime I had a spare minute or two. I even kept it in the kitchen with me while I made dinner so that I could read in between stirrings. I devoured this 549 page book in 2 days.
Ismae is a fantastic heroine. I loved her from beginning to end. The beginning of the book establishes her dismal plight in life. Her abusive father has sold her into an equally abusive marriage at the age of fourteen. She escapes her husband and finds a new life at a convent that promises to train her as an assassin. Essentially, this is a female, medieval Jason Bourne.
As one of Death's daughters, Ismae learns to serve as His handmaiden. At seventeen, she is sent out on her first couple of assignments. I found this portion of the book to be a little too crude and dark for my taste. I had trouble sleeping after reading about her poisoning and strangling two different men. But the assassinations slow down after this because she is given a third assignment. She is to pose as mistress to the half brother of the duchess to gain intelligence surrounding the problems at court.
As Ismae moves through the story, she grows into herself. She comes to understand so much more about who she is and what Death expects of her. And it isn't necessarily the same as what the convent expects of her. She starts out as a bloodthirsty and eager novice, ready to jump at any opportunity to prove her worth as an assassin. By the end of the book, she has learned how to use her gifts, and learns that she is more than just a tool to be used by her misguided convent.
My favorite part of this book was near the end, when she meets Death face to face. He approaches her, names her his daughter, and kisses her brow. He shows her that He loves her unconditionally, and that He knows the true desires of her heart - to serve Him completely.
I just loved, loved, loved this book. It was beautiful.
The only downside to the story was that I felt it got unnecessarily crude in places. For example, Ismae's love interest Duval, is dying from poison, and the only way for her to save him is to "lay" with him. There are no details, but it still bothered me.
Duval is, of course, the perfect hero for Ismae to fall for. I don't know how believable it is for him to fall in love with an assassin, but I still enjoyed the love story.
The cover of the book is gorgeous. I love it. Books don't always measure up to their covers, but this one definitely does. I really hope someone makes this book into a movie.
Reading level: Ages 14 and up
Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children; 1 edition (April 3, 2012)
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