Ismae has grown up hating and fearing her abusive father, and when he sells her to an equally abusive husband, she despairs of ever finding a different path for her life. But a twist of fate brings Ismae to the convent of Saint Mortain, the ancient Breton god of death. Though Brittany has been superficially Christianized, worship of the old gods still persists, and the sisters of Saint Mortain serve their god by training young women as assassins to do his will. Ismae happily embraces her new life and devotes herself entirely to Mortain. But when she is sent out into the world to do the god’s bidding, she learns that serving him is more complicated than it appears. Her task is to pose as the mistress of Gabriel Duval, a knight of the duchess of Brittany, who is desperately trying to keep the duchy independent of French rule. As Ismae encounters conspiracy and treachery at every turn, she also becomes increasingly attracted to Gabriel. But can she continue to serve Mortain while also following her heart?
I picked up this book from the library because the premise sounded interesting, but I’m still surprised by how much I liked it! First of all, convent-trained assassins? Yes, please! The book is also far more rooted in historical reality than I thought; while there are some fantasy elements, the book reads as straight historical fiction, and many of the characters and events are real. I really liked the novel’s focus on political intrigue and Ismae’s realization that, despite her training, she is completely out of her depth at the Breton court. There aren’t many scenes of killing or ass-kicking, though, which might disappoint some readers. I also liked the romance between Ismae and Gabriel, which was predictable but still very well done. I am definitely planning to read the rest of this trilogy; book 2, Dark Triumph, just came out and focuses on two minor characters from this book. Looking forward to it!