April 16, 2012
First sentence: "I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch's poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by my place of employment.
I feel like I'm the last on the bandwagon with this; everyone seems to have read it already, and everyone seems to have loved it (including M who, 17 pages in, came to me and said, "This book is awesome."). Thankfully, it was one that quite lived up to the hype.
It doesn't hurt that it has a pretty cover (or a catchy tagline), either.
It's Brittany, 1485, and Ismae, our fair heroine, has been married off (at the paltry age of 14!) by her abusive father to a hulking brute of a man. Consigned to her fate, she is surprised when a series of herbwitches and priests save her, sneaking her off in the night. She ends up at the convent of St. Mortain, one of the old gods, where they worship Death.
And train the girls who are brought to them to be assassins.
Three years pass, and Ismae is ready to be sent off on assignments. She performs well, and so is thrown into something more grand and complex: court politics. She is sent off to keep an eye on Gavriel Duval, adviser to Anne, duchess of Brittany. Ismae is supposed to pose as his "cousin" (*coughcough*), and keep an eye on him; if he turns out to be a traitor, as the abbess and Count Crunard, a patron of the convent, suspect, then she is to kill him.
However, once there, Ismae discovers that court politics -- as well as her heart -- are much more complex than that.
I realized about 30 pages in that if Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon and any Phillipa Gregory book had a love child, this one would be it. There is court intrigue, romance, fights, horse chases, desperate situations, historical trappings, sweeping European settings, all covered in a sheen of mysticism that makes everything sparkly.
In other words, quite awesome.