I have very polar views about this book, so I will tell you all the things I liked about it first.
- Ismae is an assassin, born daughter of Mortain, God of Death and destined to do his bidding. How cool is that?
- The novel takes place in Bretagne (Brittany). Peeps, I've been fascinated with this place since I was a teenager. Bretagne to France is like Wales to England. Old pagan roots, alien language, it's full of mythology and old fairy-tales. I really want to go there one day.
- It's historical fiction with an assassin in it. The woman who could kick ass in such a dominant male society must have been absolutely extraordinary.
So, the setting, the premise and the ideas of this book earn high brownie points from me. It's a light entertaining read, the writing is flowing really well, and I finished the novel in one sitting.
Now, the critique.
That marvellous potential advertised by the setting, premise and the main characters? Never realised. Oh man, it could have been such a treat! Gritty, dark, dangerous and full of marvellous adventures and moral quandaries.
Instead we received PG13 version of an assassin and an entry course in Brittany history. Why did it have to be so simplistic?! Does young adult means mentally impaired? At that age I was reading George Sand and Alexander Dumas, surely I could have managed modern historical fiction.
The simplification of everything was driving me absolutely bonkers, - the whole part where Ismae spent few years training to be an assassin was skipped. SKIPPED. The best part. You know, poisons, weaponry, even that part about womanly charms and seduction?
Most of her kills were clumsy, she displayed zero feelings and no moral hesitation about killing someone, it was mostly a robotic function for her.
The characters and their mutual interactions weren't fleshed out, the intrigues and the conflict managed to look boring and underdeveloped. I just don't know how could you take such an interesting premise and such a tumultuous period of history and make it so plain and tamed?
I think this book is very good for a gentle introduction of a very young reader to historical fiction. Mature reader (I mean: fussy reader) will struggle.