The glorious series about convent-trained assassins concludes, reframing a main character in ways that shift the meaning of the whole series.
It’s Brittany, 1488. Death’s handmaidens Ismae (Grave Mercy, 2012) and Sybella (Dark Triumph, 2013) are off on assignment, helping the steadfast 13-year-old duchess defend Brittany against impending French occupation. Annith’s stuck in the convent, desperate to be sent out: How can she serve Mortain—their father and the god of death—behind abbey walls? Slated for a duty that will keep her convent-bound forever, Annith runs. She plans to investigate the abbess’ shady machinations but instead meets a group of hellequin on horseback, “souls of the damned” serving Mortain to earn redemption. After sparks fly with their brooding leader, Balthazaar, Annith joins the royal court in Rennes. Real historical threads provide profound resonance, and plot twists run deep. Unfortunately, a life-threatening danger near the end disappears via a disingenuous textual sleight-of-hand; worse, Mortain transforms from awe-inspiring god to something rather more pedestrian. Because he’s Death, this change robs this volume of the previous installments’ peculiar, breathtaking religious grace, undermines the convent’s raison d’être and upends the series’ magnificent premise. Though far more naïve than Ismae and Sybella, Annith is sympathetic, and her story is compelling if less action-packed and desperate than theirs; this novel never drags, but nor does it glow with beauty like the first two.
Although much of this book’s gravity and richness is carried forward from the first two, devotees of His Fair Assassin will be gratified to receive this closure, especially on the political front. (Historical fantasy. 14 & up)