There aren’t enough stars in the sky to show much I loved this book (no way is five enough)! I haven’t had a book touch me so personally since reading The Mists of Avalon back in 1998.
But before I get into why this book affected me the way it did, a little explanation of the story. Mortal Heart is the third and final book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin Lafevers. The trilogy centers on a convent of nuns in medieval France who are devoted to one of the nine old gods of Brittany, Mortain, the god of death. As Death’s handmaidens they are trained to be assassins to carry out His will. This fictional setup is blended seamlessly with actual historical events of the time, namely a 13-year-old duchess’ fight to keep Brittany independent from the French.
Each book is told from a different character’s point of view, but is part of a continuing story. The first book, Grave Mercy, is told from Ismae’s point of view and is very much about politics and court intrigue. The second, Dark Triumph, is Sybella’s story, one of adventure and heart-pounding action. In Mortal Heart, Annith finally gets to tell her story, one of romance, love and faith. (If you haven’t read the rest of the series, start with Grave Mercy. You’ll be lost if you pick up with Mortal Heart.)
Throughout all of the other books, Annith has patiently waited in the convent where she was raised for her turn to be sent out to do Mortain’s work, which is her life-long dream. She’s watched Ismae and Sybella be sent out before her, even though she is the most skilled. When she finds out that the abbess has other plans for her, ones that involve her never leaving the convent, she must make a decision whether to obey the rules as she has always done, or seek Mortain’s will on her own. Her choice leads her on a journey not even the convent seeresss could have predicted, revealing long-held secrets that threaten to unravel everything she’s ever believed about herself and the convent and send her straight into the arms of Death himself.
Being a fan of love stories and fantasy, as well as someone who is fascinated by religion, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that this my favorite book of the series. It delves much more deeply into the religion and mythology of the series, placing a truly devoted nun, Annith, at the fore. As someone who used to want to be a nun (although, not the assassin kind), I deeply related to Annith. I understand what it’s like to “be in love with” your God, to want to do his will more than anything else in the world, as well as the frustration of not understanding how you’re supposed to bring this cherished dream to fruition. Add to this that the old gods are based on the Celtic pantheon (which is near and dear to my heart), and that this book deals with the intersection of the old religion and Christianity, and how the gods and mortals interact, and you have what is personally for me, a life-changing book.
But I also realize that most people won’t have this personal connection to the book. Even if you don’t relate to it on the level I do, I believe you will be moved by the themes of love, trust, faith and hope – things we all struggle with, no matter what our personal beliefs are. Mortal Heart is also very much about the lengths to which we are willing to go for those we love, and the impact of the secrets that each and every one of us carry around with us. There is something for everyone in this richly layered tale of devotion, love and adventure.
Maybe it’s because this is the final book in the trilogy, but I felt like I was much more a part of the world of this book than in the previous books. It was a joy to see Ismae, Sybella and Annith together again and learn the final resolution of the political situation I’ve been invested in since the first book. I also loved getting to see the inner workings of some of the other orders devoted to the old gods.
There is so much more I want to say about this book, but I can’t because it involves spoilers for key plot points. Please trust me on how wonderful this book is and give it, and the series, a chance. Even though it’s marketed as YA, it certainly doesn’t read like a YA book. To me it’s a wonderful historical fantasy perfect for those who love their fantasy with strong female characters, unlikely love, a bit of mystery, and a dash of danger.
Have you read any of the books in this series? Did you like them? Why or why not? Are you planning to read Mortal Heart? Does anything I’ve said about this series intrigue you? Why?