I narrow my eyes at him. Does he truly think I do not know his plan? That I will sit quietly in my toom while he talks of kingdoms and traitors with these friends of his? Well and so, if he is that stupid, let him think I will do exactly as he bids (p 125).
Set in Brittany in 1485, seventeen-year-old Ismae is rumored to be a daughter of Death. Unwanted by her human father, she escapes an arranged marriage to a brutal man when she is whisked away to the convent of St. Mortain, the god of Death. Tasked with preserving worship of the old gods, especially Mortain, the women at St. Mortain’s help maintain Brittany’s independence from the ever-threatening France. These handmaidens of St. Mortain are trained assassins, carrying out Mortain’s will.
Ismae dedicates herself to this new purpose where her curse is considered a gift. She is resistant to poison, heals quickly, and can see the mark of death on her victims and others at Death’s door.
Her early missions lead her straight to the upper echelons of the court where she finds the political maneuvering far more sophisticated than her convent led her to believe. As she struggles to determine who to trust and who is betraying her country, she also learns Mortain is more complex than she ever believed. Adding to her troubles are her strong feelings for Duval, the duchesses half-brother, and Ismae’s companion.
This is the second fantasy book I’ve read recently that relies on a strong tie between mission and theology. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is the first. Like Pricess Elisa, Ismae’s hand is guided by her divine mission, though the connection is only slightly understood. While the political scene and scope is not nearly so intricate or wide as Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock nor so subtly woven as Turner’s The Thief, it’s romanic element rings true and strong. I look forward to the sequel, Dark Triumph, told from the handmaiden Sybella’s point of view coming Spring 2013.