I didn't start to read MORTAL HEART as soon as I got it because I didn't want to say goodbye to the His Fair Assassin trilogy. The first two were darkly beautiful historical fantasy novels featuring two very different, but equally compelling heroines, and their genuine chemistry with their heroic counterparts. But I couldn't hold off for long. Amazingly, I think MORTAL HEART might be my favorite of the three.
MORTAL HEART is actually more forgiving to new readers than DARK TRIUMPH. It winds time back a bit, to shortly after Sybella is sent on her mission (in DARK TRIUMPH) and re-establishes the rhythm of convent life and what is at risk in the War of Breton Succession. There's been something fishy at the heart of the convent, and it comes to a head as Annith realizes the abbess's orders can't come from their patron saint Mortain (the saint of Death). The abbess thinks Annith is docile and biddable, when really Annith is helpful and doesn't see the point of making waves. When she does, she reveals the steel beneath.
I loved Annith's appearances and Ismae and Sybella's books, and she does not disappoint when handed center stage. She's confident in her skills and her knowledge, but unsure of her heart. She's never been able to see the marque (which is how Mortain's handmaidens know who to assassinate), and so she's less confident in her kills, even when they save people. She doesn't know if she's cut out to be an assassin, but she knows she isn't destined to be a seer, locked in a little room, the destiny the abbess is trying to force upon her.
Annith, of course, gets her own romance. Balthazar is a hellequin, sort of a member of a Wild Hunt. He and Annith instantly spark - some good ways, some bad ways. Love certainly doesn't turn Annith into a swooning damsel.
"What was your intent with this sparring of yours? To entice them? To entice me?"
"If that is the case, then it is their fault and not mine. I wished only to keep my own skills honed." - p. 141, ARC
I think DARK TRIUMPH had the strongest love story of the three books, although I enjoyed the other two. Annith and Balthazar's relationship frequently takes a backseat to the action plot, and I am not going to complain about that.
I love how Robin LaFevers wove real history and fantasy together in this series. She makes the political maneuvering between battles just as vivid and high stakes as the battles themselves. The Duchess of Breton is in a bad place: the princess is dying, her husband-by-proxy has his own wars to fight, she can't pay her mercenaries, and it's just bad all around. The struggle to save Brittany from destruction holds equal weight to Annith's personal journey, and both are dealt with together in a satisfactory ending.
His Fair Assassin is one of the best trilogies in recent years. It starts strong and just keeps going - no sagging middle, no lagging finish. I highly recommend all three of these books. They're exciting and insightful, and a wonderful exploration of feminine strength in a time when women were regarded as little more than property.