Robin LaFevers – Mortal Heart
Read By: Jennifer Grace
Length: 18 h 2 min (452 pages)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Started: 15 December 2014
Finished: 01 January 2015
Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed the first two books in this series.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 04 October 2014.
It’s hard to serve Death
when you’re stuck in a convent
your entire life.
Summary: Annith has been at the convent of St. Mortain since she was a baby, training to serve the god of Death as an assassin. She is the best at every skill she can master, but she watches as one by one the other trainees, including her friends Ismae and Sybella, are sent out on assignments while she remains at the convent. Finally, she learns the abbess’s plans: to train her as the convent’s seeress, a job that will keep her locked inside the convent for the rest of her life, rather than out serving Mortain and the duchess of Brittany, where she belongs. So Annith has no choice but to run away from the convent, but before she can barely strike out on her own, she runs into the Hellequin – a wild hunt of the damned, condemned to hunt down fugitive souls and return them to Death’s domain. Annith is strangely drawn to Balthazaar, their leader, but she won’t let him – or anything – keep her from doing her duty to protect her country and her friends.
Review: While I really enjoyed this book, it’s different enough from the first two books in the series that it took me some getting used to. For example, while I complained that the first two books didn’t have enough scenes at the convent itself, this one spends a decent chunk of the book at the convent (although it is after Ismae and Sybella have already been sent out, so their close friendship still has never felt entirely believable to me). But more importantly, while the other two books felt like straight-up historical fiction with just a tinge of the mystical (Ismae’s resistance to poisons, the power to see Mortain’s marks of imminent death), Mortal Heart brings that mysticism front and center, to the point where it almost becomes historical fantasy rather than historical fiction. Because I was expecting the realism of the previous books, when Annith runs into the Hellequin, and is explaining how they can’t go out in the day and camp in caves near the entrances to Death’s realms, and how they are collecting souls, etc., I thought she was being metaphorical and the Hellequin were just a band of rough-around-the-edges do-gooders… but no, they’re actually damned souls serving penance on Earth before they’re released to Death. And there are several other equally important elements that make this book much more fantasy than its predecessors – not that I mind, at all, but it was a big enough change from what I was expecting that it was wrong-footing for a little while.
Other than that, though, this book was just as good as the two previous. I like the world that LaFevers draws, of political intrigue and political danger, and of the occasionally tumultuous relationships between the Christian church and the old gods, of passion and service and duty and honor and romance. The romance in this book is believable and just generally nicely done; an interesting take on the “captive taken by brigands with a heart of gold” trope. I didn’t get quite as involved with Annith’s relationship as I did with Ismae’s or Sybella’s in the previous books, but I still found this book a totally engrossing read. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: This book picks up after (or maybe slightly overlapping) the end of Darkest Mercy, and all three really need to be read in order. However, the series as a whole is definitely worth picking up if you like historical fiction, teenage girl assassins, and the fantasy in the flavor of gods touching mortal life.
Other Reviews: Good Books and Good Wine, Rhapsody in Books Weblog, Waking Brain Cells, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
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First Line: For most, the bleak dark months when the black storms come howling out of the north is a time of grimness and sorrow as people await the arrival of winter, which brings death, hunger, and bitter cold in its wake.
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