Summary: Ismae has been marked by St. Mortain ever since her mother took poison to try to rid Ismae from her womb. After being rescued from a marriage arranged by her abusive father, Ismae learns to be an assassin at the convent of St. Mortain.
Her first major mission is to infiltrate the court of the Duchess of Brittany, posing as the mistress of Gavriel Duval. Someone wants to see the duchess dead and Ismae must look for the mark of St. Mortain and strike to save Brittany from the threat of war from France. With all the political intrigue afoot, Ismae struggles to find the truth amid the lies, and when she is ordered to kill those she has come to trust, she wonders where exactly the convent is getting their orders.
Cast of Characters
There’s a long, long list at the beginning of the book, but really these are the people you need to know:
Ismae – peasant-born and scarred, I was really rooting for her at the beginning. But after a while I got tired of how ill-prepared she was. She should have been a Katniss, but instead I just heard a lot of whining about how she hadn’t paid attention in class. Still, when she did get around to her assassin duties, she was a great shot.
Gavriel Duval – an interesting bastard (literally) who Ismae thinks might be looking to take the throne for himself.
The Beast – burly friend of Duval’s who I wished there was a lot more of…
Count D’Albrect – a total douchebag who likes to marry his wives then rape/kill them… and now he’s set his sights on the duchess.
Sybella – a fellow assassin at the convent who is on a secret mission. All we get to know about Sybella is that she’s fairly insane. Apparently Book 2 is about her… She isn’t a huge part of this book, however
A killer hook that left me hanging
The first hundred pages or so hooked me with Ismae’s plight and her stealth as an assassin. Even though Ismae preferred killing with poisons (and is herself immune to poison), she can handle a crossbow and a misericorde and comes across as pretty badass. There was this one scene at a masquerade that was really awesome…
Unfortunately, the middle of the book dragged with a lot of political intrigue that was difficult to follow. I wanted more tension between Duval and Ismae, but even at the end was not well rewarded with a cut-to-black sex scene. Ismae seemed to drift through the middle of the book trying to figure out what was going on and cursing all the times she chose not to pay attention to her lessons on seduction or politics.
Do you like your language archaic or old-fashioned?
I also found the language at times to be unnecessarily archaic. Phrases like “to break my fast” instead of breakfast were used over and over and while I’m sure they were historically correct, it just sounded awkward. Once would have sufficed. A lot of the spellings were archai-ified with extra e’s on the end and the like. It was mildly annoying.
Oh my Saints!
I would have liked to learn more about this strange religion based around saints. St. Mortain is not a real saint, but I loved the idea that some saints were actually more like gods wandering the earth. Since none of these saints were real, there’s no way to find out more about them… What does St. Mortain’s mark look like? How are these saints related to Christianity, or are they related at all? The author’s website promises to have more information about Mortain, but nothing is up as of yet.
On a side note, in perusing the historical information on the author’s website, I found that the Duchess in this book, Anne of Brittany, is a historical character I actually know something about. Back in 8th grade I had to read a biography and I chose Twice Queen of France: Anne of Brittany by Mildred Allen Butler. So weird… All I remember is stuff about Anne’s life after she was married. I never got the impression from Grave Mercy that the Duchess was a very young woman (she was around age 12).