Author: Robin LaFevers

Life’s Too Short – Courting Darkness, The Cassandra, The Wolf and the Watchman

February 28, 2019 Bonnie 2019, Book Reviews, Life's Too Short 5 Comments

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Life’s Too Short – Courting Darkness, The Cassandra, The Wolf and the WatchmanCourting Darkness by Robin LaFevers
Series: Courting Darkness Duology #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on February 5, 2019
Pages: 512
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
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Also by this author: Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart

dnf

Death wasn’t the end, it was only the beginning…

Sybella has always been the darkest of Death’s daughters, trained at the convent of Saint Mortain to serve as his justice. But she has a new mission now. In a desperate bid to keep her two youngest sisters safe from the family that nearly destroyed them all, she agrees to accompany the duchess to France, where they quickly find themselves surrounded by enemies. Their one ray of hope is Sybella’s fellow novitiates, disguised and hidden deep in the French court years ago by the convent—provided Sybella can find them.

Genevieve has been undercover for so many years, she struggles to remember who she is or what she’s supposed to be fighting for. Her only solace is a hidden prisoner who appears all but forgotten by his guards. When tragedy strikes, she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands—even if it means ignoring the long awaited orders from the convent.

As Sybella and Gen’s paths draw ever closer, the fate of everything they hold sacred rests on a knife’s edge. Will they find each other in time, or will their worlds collide, destroying everything they care about?

DNF @ 10%

Courting Darkness returns the focus to Sybella (originally from Dark Triumph) and her new mission in life. I adored the original trilogy and while it has been said that it’s not necessary to read them to appreciate the new duology, I found a definite lack of world-building and establishment of character in this installment. Whether or not it’s necessary, I would highly recommend reading them for the background knowledge alone since it does not appear to be given in Courting Darkness. And while it must be said that there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this story (despite my obvious DNF) I realized shortly into this that while I was originally excited for more stories set in this world, I felt that the original trio’s stories had been told and nothing more was needed.

I received this book free from Library Thing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Life’s Too Short – Courting Darkness, The Cassandra, The Wolf and the WatchmanThe Cassandra by Sharma Shields
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on February 12, 2019
Pages: 304
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fairy-Tales/Retellings
Format: ARC
Source: Library Thing
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The Cassandra follows a woman who goes to work in a top secret research facility during WWII, only to be tormented by visions of what the mission will mean for humankind.

Mildred Groves is an unusual young woman. Gifted and cursed with the ability to see the future, Mildred runs away from home to take a secretary position at the Hanford Research Center in the early 1940s. Hanford, a massive construction camp on the banks of the Columbia River in remote South Central Washington, exists to test and manufacture a mysterious product that will aid the war effort. Only the top generals and scientists know that this product is processed plutonium, for use in the first atomic bombs.

Mildred is delighted, at first, to be part of something larger than herself after a lifetime spent as an outsider. But her new life takes a dark turn when she starts to have prophetic dreams about what will become of humankind if the project is successful. As the men she works for come closer to achieving their goals, her visions intensify to a nightmarish pitch, and she eventually risks everything to question those in power, putting her own physical and mental health in jeopardy. Inspired by the classic Greek myth, this 20th century reimagining of Cassandra's story is based on a real WWII compound that the author researched meticulously. A timely novel about patriarchy and militancy, The Cassandra uses both legend and history to look deep into man's capacity for destruction, and the resolve and compassion it takes to challenge the powerful.

DNF @ 21%

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was cursed to speak prophecies that no one would ever believe. Sharma Shields’ Cassandra is a woman who also possesses the ability to prophesize and when she goes to work for the research facility that created the atomic bomb during WWII, her protestations fall on deaf ears when she tries to warn everyone of what’s to come. The plot of this one sounded fascinating and I was anxiously awaiting my opportunity to read it but unfortunately, I found Cassandra’s character to be insufferable and the rest of the characters were completely depthless. Whether or not they were developed further on in the story is a moot point since I obviously did not finish this story, however, character development is not a better late than never sort of thing and should have been done in the very beginning. The bit of story I did read left a lot to be desired plot-wise as well. Cassandra’s story lacked fluidity and felt rather like she was simply checking off boxes on a list of what she knows she does in life. Considering she’s got the gift of prophecy it’s thoroughly possible that this could have been the reason, except, Cassandra never felt like an active participant in her own life and seemed much more likely that it was the author checking off boxes instead. It was at about the point I hit this quote that I decided this just wasn’t for me:

“I admired his stridency. I wanted to bake it, to eat it like a large meat loaf so that it would enter my bloodstream and become my own.”

I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Life’s Too Short – Courting Darkness, The Cassandra, The Wolf and the WatchmanThe Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag
Published by Atria Books on March 5, 2019
Pages: 384
Genres: Historical Fiction
Format: ARC
Source: the Publisher
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dnf

In this breathtakingly bold, intricately constructed novel set in 18th century Stockholm, a dying man searches among the city’s teeming streets, dark corners, and intriguing inhabitants to unmask a ruthless murderer—perfect for fans of Perfume and The Alienist.

It is 1793. Four years after the storming of the Bastille in France and more than a year after the death of King Gustav III of Sweden, paranoia and whispered conspiracies are Stockholm’s daily bread. A promise of violence crackles in the air as ordinary citizens feel increasingly vulnerable to the whims of those in power.

When Mickel Cardell, a crippled ex-solider and former night watchman, finds a mutilated body floating in the city’s malodorous lake, he feels compelled to give the unidentifiable man a proper burial. For Cecil Winge, a brilliant lawyer turned consulting detective to the Stockholm police, a body with no arms, legs, or eyes is a formidable puzzle and one last chance to set things right before he loses his battle to consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell scour Stockholm to discover the body’s identity, encountering the sordid underbelly of the city’s elite. Meanwhile, Kristofer Blix—the handsome son of a farmer—leaves rural life for the alluring charms of the capital and ambitions of becoming a doctor. His letters to his sister chronicle his wild good times and terrible misfortunes, which lead him down a treacherous path.

In another corner of the city, a young woman—Anna-Stina—is consigned to the workhouse after she upsets her parish priest. Her unlikely escape plan takes on new urgency when a sadistic guard marks her as his next victim.

Over the course of the novel, these extraordinary characters cross paths and collide in shocking and unforgettable ways. Niklas Natt och Dag paints a deliciously dark portrait of late 18th century Stockholm, and the frightful yet fascinating reality lurking behind the powdered and painted veneer of the era.

DNF @ 20%

The Wolf and the Watchmen is a story set in 1793 involving the brutal murder of a man and the duo on the hunt for the perpetrator. This is quite a violent and graphic story but it paints a vivid portrait of 18th century Sweden. Did anyone watch the show Taboo with Tom Hardy? It reminded me a lot of that except Taboo has a facet of the supernatural and this story did not. While I don’t normally need supernatural additives in my historical fiction for them to suceed, it did make me realize that I felt like there was something missing to this story that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. This story is admittedly very well-written and I can see why it was awarded best debut novel by The Swedish Academy of Crime Writers, unfortunately, the bleakness of the story was absolute and I couldn’t find the motivation to finish.

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Book Review – Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by Robin LaFevers

December 6, 2014 Bonnie Book Reviews, Read in 2014, YA 1 Comment

Book Review – Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by Robin LaFeversMortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #3
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on November 4th 2014
Pages: 444
Genres: Historical Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Also by this author: Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, Courting Darkness

three-half-stars
In the powerful conclusion to Robin LaFever's New York Times bestselling His Fair Assassins trilogy, Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.
She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind, doesn’t mean she has.

His Fair Assassin Trilogy

Early Review – Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by R.L. LaFeversEarly Review – Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by R.L. LaFevers

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers {PurchaseMy Review}
Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFevers {PurchaseMy Review}

‘We are all of us, gods and mortals, made up of many pieces, some of them broken, some of them scarred, but none of them the total sum of who we are.’

The final installment in His Fair Assassin trilogy introduces Annith who anxiously awaits the day when she’s sent out into the world to serve Mortain. She excels at all she does and can’t comprehend why she still remains at the convent until the day she overhears the abbess proclaim that Annith is to be trained to be the next Seeress. Refusing to be subjected to the role which would keep her locked within the convent until her dying day, Annith decides to take matters into her own hands and serve Mortain in her own way.

So. Mortal Heart. It was easily one of my most anticipated releases of the year because of how much I adored Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph both. The only accurate way I can describe how I felt about Mortal Heart is to pull a Kevin Sorbo and throw my head back and howl my disappointment.

It must be said though, that LaFevers writing remains spectacular and the historically relevant details are incorporated wonderfully into this tale of fiction and make for an interesting and informative tale. I mostly had an issue with Annith herself and found her to be far too impulsive in her decisions despite the fact that I knew where she was coming from in her decision to leave the convent. Almost the entire first half of the book was spent in first person with the intent to get to know Annith and her mindset but I had a dreadfully hard time staying interested. Once she finally does take the leap of faith to leave the convent to venture out on her own, it does pick up but the seemingly requisite male that these females must meet is introduced and as much as I liked the originality of this love interest he was still described as “breathtakingly handsome in a dark, almost broken way”. Queue the eye rolls. I was fine with Ismae and Sybella’s stories and their meeting of their men but I guess by the third time of the same sort of tale it was getting a little old. If any of these girls tales could have done without a romance I think it would have been Annith. I would have much preferred a story centered around her need to flee the convent and grow in character as a strong and independent female making a life for her own.

Setting aside my opinions on Annith, my primary issue with Mortal Heart is the slow and meandering plot that unfortunately never ends up amounting to much. It took me two weeks to read this and while I love a book you can read slowly and savor, it was instead a definite struggle to finish. Its two predecessors were packed to the gills with action and it was sorely missing in this installment. Add to that, the unexpected and decidedly picturesque ending missed the mark completely for me. View Spoiler »

As much as I hate to call this the worst installment, it’s still a trilogy I would highly recommend for the first two installments alone. If you’re a fan of action-packed historical novels with a cast of incredible women, do check this out.

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Early Review – Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFevers

March 14, 2013 Bonnie Book Reviews, Early Review, Read in 2013, YA 1 Comment

I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Early Review – Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFeversDark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #2
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children on April 2nd 2013
Pages: 405
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
Format: eARC
Source: the Publisher
Amazon
Goodreads

Also by this author: Grave Mercy, Mortal Heart, Courting Darkness

four-stars

Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?

His Fair Assassin series

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)
Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) {Purchase – My Review}

​’The abbess and I had a different sort of relationship. One built on mutual dislike and distrust, brought together only by our shared needs: mine for a sanctuary, hers for a finely honed weapon she could let loose as Mortain willed. I trust her as much as I do a viper.’​

It seems as if each hand maiden of death ha​s​ her own story to tell and in Dark Triumph we ​get to experience Lady Sybella’s. And hers is quite grim and ​desolate.​ Sybella manages to escape from the frightening place she was forced to call home for most of her life and finds herself at the convent; a place where she finally feels at peace.

‘As Death’s handmaiden, I must be in place so I may strike when the time comes.’

Her peace is short-lived, however, as the abbess instructs her that Mortain wishes her to return to her father so that she can be in a prime position in d’Albret’s household to gain priceless information in order to aid the abbess. The horrors she endured in that household does not make it an easy order to accept.

Sybella is much more ‘rough around the edges’ in comparison to Ismae but her story was still just as riveting. Much of the story is spent with Sybella  ​trying to come to terms with her upbringing and clinging desperately to the fact that d’Albert is not her true father and that she is nothing like him.

​​​​​’Do I enjoy killing? Is it the act itself that brings me joy? Or do I embrace the sense of higher purpose it gives me?’

At its center, Dark Triumph is a story of faith and belief. Faith and belief that Sybella is nothing like her loathsome father and that Mortain is her true father. Faith and belief that the men she has killed that did not bear a marque still deserved their deaths and that it isn’t a sin against Mortain. She struggles consistently with these thoughts and it sets the tone for the entire story.

​​​Much like Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph does include a romance but it’s perfectly balanced so as to not overpower the story in any way. The Beast of Waroch:  the perfectly imperfect love interest is the perfect love interest for Sybella. He’s the one that could ever come closest to being able to truly understand her and loving her for who she undoubtedly is.

​Agonizingly heartbreaking, Sybella has lived through so much pain and misery in such a short time. It may be easy to commiserate with her, however, it’s even easier to praise her for her strength and ability to endure. Sybella is a true survivor, an inspiration, and an unbelievably strong character that you won’t likely forget.

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Early Review – Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers

March 3, 2012 Bonnie Book Reviews, Early Review, Read in 2012, YA 4 Comments

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Early Review – Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFeversGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children on April 3rd 2012
Pages: 576
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Also by this author: Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart, Courting Darkness

five-stars

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

This was an exceptionally written story that managed to suck me in with the very first line and I simply couldn’t read fast enough. For a book with over 550 pages this went extremely quick.

Ismae is seventeen years-old and just has been sold to the local pig farmer for three silver coins. As he inevitably forces her into his bedroom after the local priest has married them, he sees her body for the first time. And the scars that adorn it. After he locks her in a closet, she is assisted by the same local priest that married her and the local herbwitch responsible for the scars on her body and they ferry her out of town and into safety. Unable to fathom what she should be expecting, she arrives at the convent of St. Mortain, the god of Death. Ismae is told that she was sired by the god of Death himself and that he has bestowed gifts upon her of great value.

“If you choose to stay, you will be trained in His arts. You will learn more ways to kill a man than you imagined possible. We will train you in stealth and cunning and all manner of skills that will ensure no man is ever again a threat to you.”

Hmm.. become a bad-ass assasin or go back to the pig farmer. Decisions, decisions.

Duval is a mysterious man who is a favorite to the duchess, but his loyalties are in doubt. Ismae is ultimately sent back with him to court as his mistress. It was obviously inevitable that these two would end up been all lovey-dovey but I was okay with that. Duval was a good match for Ismae in my opinion. At first, I didn’t much care for the ‘little-girl’ mode she went into around him. The girl is an assassin who has killed men in cold blood and she went all weak-kneed everytime he touched her… but I suppose that could be attributed to the fact that she spent more in practicing on poison making than she did in her ‘womanly arts’ classes. 🙂 I think this ended up making the story work better in terms of realism because regardless of the fact that she is an assassin, she is only 17 and has yet to encounter a man that was decent to her and if she didn’t act the way she did I think her actions would have closely resembled that of a robot instead of a real person. Her vulnerabilities are intriguing.

‘I can dodge a blow or block a knife. I am impervious to poison and know a dozen ways to escape a chokehold or garrote wire. But kindness? I do not know how to defend against that.’

I really did love Ismae. She was charming, unintentionally funny, a natural bad-ass, she hides weapons under her skirts, and kills people with jewelry. Enough said. The initial pacing of this story was incredibly fast and it flashed forward 3 years later to when she is a trained assassin within the first 50 pages. At first I was disappointed that we didn’t receive more of a backstory on Ismae, but then again, she was raised the daughter of an abusive man who was a turnip farmer. How interesting could it have been?

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, if it’s done right. I’ve read some pretty dreadful ones. This was a historical fiction with touches of fantasy that blended beautifully in my opinion. I was a bit timid going into this because I haven’t read too many YA historical fictions and the ones I have I wasn’t impressed. That’s the thing with this one though, it may be labeled YA but it’s very maturely written. All in all I’m pretty blown away at how much I enjoyed this. I was enthralled throughout the entirety and was pleasantly mystified as to what the outcome could possibly be… which is quite rare. So many books these days lack that ‘surprise’ factor. By the end though I was practically heartbroken once it was over as I had become so emotionally invested in what happened to these people… I’m so excited for the next book to come out. I think it will be interesting learning more about Sybella after the glimpses we had in this installment. I can’t wait!

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