Monday, October 20, 2014

Assassin nuns of the 16th century

I was offered to read the first two novels in the His Fair Assassin trilogy in anticipation of the release of the concluding novel. I have a difficult time turning down any requests made directly from the publisher of a fantasy imprint. I am really glad I didn't pass these up. After a lovely (I mean truly beautiful) fall day at the Renaissance Festival, which also seemed a wildly appropriate theme for the reading material of the weekend, I focused my attentions on the nuns of St. Mortain.


Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

I have read plenty of Middle Ages stories that take place in England. Authors seem to love writing the story of Camelot, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth very much. They are pretty dramatic stories that would naturally draw the nature of a fiction author. Plus, with a British heritage, I just get drawn in by the stories and their familiarity. I was intrigued when these stories took place in medieval France.

The research from those eras is very limited (hence its nickname of the Dark Ages) so this time period can be easy to abuse the facts since there is a lot to embellish. It is a section of literature that I enjoy but struggle to accept. We want to know what the life was like for these people who did not have access to our technologies. We have a certain craving to comprehend a lifestyle so far from our own (be it simple, rustic, uncomplicated, or dramatic depending on your personal spin). Robin LaFevers stays to the facts of her research through the background of places and chain of events but builds that curiosity of people and their motives. Plus, assassin nuns is just a cool concept.

There are parts of the story which stumble along. There are plenty of awkward moments that prove no matter how much research you do, you can't write what you don't know. The concept might have been perfect for the story line, but the reality just didn't come through the writing. I am also not sure I would package these as YA novels since murder, death, and luring men are some key covenants the nuns of St. Mortain live by. However, the female lead is strong and she is overcoming some very strong obstacles in life (oh, and she is 14 when the book starts which I did not recognize--often forgot--throughout the whole story because her character does not feel young in any way). The overall concept was good, the characters were strong, and I was opened to a new angle of history. I consider all of those wins for a good read.

I will give this novel 3 stars and happily move to the next story where we get to focus on events from Sybella's angle. (I anticipate a darker twist here.)