So, a month or so ago, NetGalley sent an email out to all members, offering this up as a download for everyone for two days (the official publication date is today). I read the words ASSASSIN NUNS and said to myself “Hell yes, self, this will be awesome!” So I ignored the stupid cover and instead focused on how there shouldn’t be any way a book about ASSASSIN NUNS could be lame. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
Ismae Rienne is 14 when her father sells her as a bride to a local pig farmer. On their wedding night, he sees the scar she bears from the poison her mother took while pregnant in an effort to end the pregnancy (wait, poison leaves scars?) and realizes that it marks her as a daughter of Death. He takes off to find a priest…not exactly sure what his point was with that, but he locks her in the cellar until he can return. She’s rescued by a local hedgepriest and the herbwitch that gave her mother the poison in the first place.
She’s taken to a sailor waiting in a row boat (bonus, the sailor [who is really A ROWER BECAUSE ALL HE DOES IS ROW BACK AND FORTH] talks like a pirate) who takes her to an island with a convent dedicated to Saint Mortain (actually the god of death, but concessions must be made for the invading Roman Catholic church). She’s introduced to the abbess and is told that since she’s an ACTUAL daughter of Death (like, he really was her father, not the asshat that sold her to a pig farmer) she’s immune to poisons and plagues and whatnot. This makes her perfect for the ASSASSIN NUN life because she can handle their poisons without having to worry about succumbing to them.
ASSASSIN NUNS needs to be capattacked because I always shout it in my head. ASSASSIN NUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNS!!!! Okay, so maybe I sang it really loud that time, but still.
Anyway, Ismae is accepted into the order of ASSASSIN NUNS that deal death for Saint Mortain, and three years pass. Three years that skip over all of her training, or anything that might have been interesting. We do learn, though, that they kill people who are traitors to Brittany…and the French. Because they hate the French. Who doesn’t hate the French? Even in the 15th Century, everyone hates the French.
So, Ismae goes out on her first assassination. It’s someone who’s done something to piss off Mortain because he bears the Marque of Death. This was, like, a shadowy mark on the marqued (yes – I said marqued. I didn’t make that word up – she did) person’s body somewhere. A vaguely supernatural element in a story that otherwise
struggled strove to be historical. The hit takes place in a tavern with lodging on the second floor. On her way up the stairs, she’s accosted by ANOTHER PIG FARMER (jeez, you’d think everyone raised pigs back then).
She pretends to be a serving wench and sneaks some poison into the marqued guy’s wine. The only people who see her are a servant girl and that pig farmer from downstairs, so high five Ismae! Job done! You were only seen by two people who could possibly identify you, but it’s okay because this is before there were police sketch artists and CODIS and whatnot.
Shortly after this, she’s sent out on a second assassination (ASSASSIN NUUUUUUUUNS!) but this time, she’s given a bracelet that turns into a garrote and told that this will be her weapon – she’s also dressed up like a floozy and taken to a ball with Chancellor Crunard. He’s some dude that’s sympathetic to the goals of the ASSASSIN NUNS, and is her ticket into the ball. She pretends to be a whore, kills the dude, then shoves him out the window into a waiting cart in the courtyard below. Just after this, she’s interrupted by a banging on the door. Well done, Ismae. Two assassinations, two times you’re almost caught.
She gets herself back to the convent and is immediately summoned to see the abbess, who is in a meeting with Chancellor Crunard. The dude who was banging on the door at the ball comes storming in, casting accusations about the ASSASSIN NUUUUUUUUUUNS killing off his sources of information. His name is Duval and he’s the bastard brother of the 12 year old Duchess Anne. The abbess and Crunard don’t trust him, so Ismae is sent back to court with him to keep an eye on things and kill anyone bearing Mortain’s Marque.
On their way to court, they stop for the night with someone that Ismae refers to as the French Whore. Ooops, that’s Duval’s mommy. And she just called her a whore. To his face. Oooooops.
Then there’s like, 300 pages of political intrigue that isn’t intriguing at all. Ismae doesn’t kill anyone else, and she starts to develop feelings for Duval. Everyone wants the Duchess’s hand in marriage, and her father (the Duke, also Duval’s father) made things worse by promising her TO EVERYONE before he died. So there’s all of this blahblahblahing about who’s going to get her hand. Anne’s almost raped in a hallway by this old man that wants to marry her, but Ismae doesn’t kill him, she just pokes him a little with her stiletto and he runs away.
Suddenly, everyone is convinced that Duval is a traitor (because his mom’s the French Whore – dur, keep up), and he has to go into hiding in the secret passages that line the walls of the keep. Ismae realizes that he’s being poisoned, and even though she’s disobeyed orders from the convent to kill him, she knows it wasn’t one of the other ASSASSIN NUNS.
She realizes that it’s Crunard that is behind everything, because his son is being held hostage by the French (those bastards, the Bretons were right to hate them!) in exchange for Anne.
Ismae starts bringing peace to fallen soldiers on a battlefield with her misericorde, and finally meets her REAL father – Death/Mortain. She’s told that she has chosen to serve him in a proper way, bringing peace by killing instead of following the teachings of the ASSASSIN NUNS, and that she also has the power to stop death if she chooses.
She then realizes what she has to do to save Duval from the poison and rides furiously back to find him in those hidden passages. He’s near death, but that doesn’t stop her from giving him a big ol’ dose of SEXUAL HEALING. Except…we’re told repeatedly how she’s got, like, zero experience and isn’t even sure what actually happens when a woman lies with a man.
Wait, THIS IS THE MIDDLE AGES, THERE WAS NO PRIVACY! How has she never seen her parents, animals or the general populace getting it on?
I don’t know why I imagine everyone was a voyeur, but didn’t they all just pretend they didn’t know what was happening while secretly watching from the corners?
Anyway, in case you’re reading this book and have no idea what sex is, I promise you that you will remain lily white in your ignorance.
Ismae is lying on top of him, and then awakens a short time later, having sucked all of the poison out of Duval’s body with her magical girl parts.
So, Anne is crowned Duchess (officially) and Duval tells Ismae that his heart is hers if she wants it.
But, of course it’s a series. Luckily, the next one is about a DIFFERENT ASSASSIN NUN so maybe there will be more killings?
I don’t know, this book has hundreds of four and five star ratings on goodreads. I’m in the minority for not liking it, but it felt like a really poorly done YA rip off of Jaqueline Carey’s Kushiel series. Which is weird, because that series is not YA in the slightest, and this one shouldn’t have been either. It reads like a standard historical romance, except for when the author feels the need to explain simple things that readers should be able to glean from context or already know. [shrug]