I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a book at work and become so engrossed in it that I immediately went and bought it because I needed to know what happens next. When we got it in, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be as good as it sounded, but it definitely took me by surprise.Let’s get the premise out of the way—assassin nuns in fifteenth-century Brittany. (And not even corrupt nuns pretending to be religious.) It’s something that sounds ridiculous at first, but works so incredibly well—trust me, I’m trying to push it on my sister and she’s turning me down based on premise alone. And then LaFevers adds a secondary pagan worship of old gods, one being St. Mortain, and giving the book a touch of fantasy. In lesser hands, pagan gods and Ismae’s abilities would have come across as super-special abilities, but I love what she does here. First off, the blending of paganism and Christianity is a practice going back to ancient times, and especially prevalent in areas such as Brittany. I love that it’s mentioned that the peasantry still pays homage to the old gods. As for the fantastic elements, such as the presence of marques and ripping souls away from the bodies, it’s described as something that any woman sired by Mortain has, and can attune/achieve. The pacing is perfect. There’s so much intrigue and suspicion involved in the plot that requires the reader to work through it, but you’re so wrapped up in all of the plots you have to keep reading. (See my frustration at being continually interrupted, I AM READING GORRAMIT.) The plot twists and turns and when the revelation comes, it’s definitely unexpected, but not out of left field. And the characters actually take their time in their investigations, not jumping to one foregone conclusion after another. This is a book that actually treats the reader as being intelligent and not undermining the narrative with pages of exposition. I love Ismae so much. We need more Ismaes. It would have been so easy for her to turn into a damsel, or an informed badass, but she never stoops to that level. She’s definitely someone who would be likely to take vengeance on those who’ve wronged her, but she manages to become stronger and defeats her demons in her own way. (The scene where she returns to her old village? Perfection.) What I also love is that while some of her abilities do set her apart from the other sisters of St. Mortain, she’s not treated as a super-special snowflake. Ismae actually has to work out what her abilities are, and hone them—I love that she’s spent years training with Sister Serafina to create and detect poisons. And even when she discovers the true meanings behind the marques, she actually tests her theories and has to work at the meanings. She’s definitely intelligent, but is human and makes mistakes and deals with the consequences. Even the literal deus ex machina Ismae receives at the end feels like a natural progression of her character. And I love the relationships she cultivates. To be fair, I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t get her training in the convent with Sybella and Annith, but I still loved the closeness the three of them had in the few short scenes we did get with them. Not to mention the fact that Ismae continually worries about Sybella disappearing from the convent and what’s going to happen to Annith. (And this is after she’s met the love interest!) And I love the friendship between Ismae and Anne—yes, it’s a relationship that comes out of Ismae’s duties to the Duchess, but you can tell that Anne does see Ismae as a trusted confidant and friend. As for Duval, he’s not a designated love interest just because he looks smoking in a doublet. He actually has feelings that grow and cultivate over time for Ismae. Plus, he realizes that while he needs to keep up appearances, he doesn’t try to actually act on his feelings until the mission is complete. I love that Duval is a good guy, and that most of his arguments with Ismae are more of the result of conflicting interests between the two. Once they start working together and comparing notes, they make a decent team. Also, he’s an example of chivalry—devoted to his sister and his cause, wishes for the safety of others and his country and he’s not a jerk about it. I love that while he’s the quiet stoic, he’s not above his two companions, and I love his friendship with Beast and de Lornay. And Anne—her character is written with such dignity, and given the situation she’s in, it’s not surprising that she does read far older than twelve. But there’s moments that really hit you and remind you that she’s still a young girl and is dealing with everything with little say in what she wants. I really hope that she continues to be a major presence in the rest of the series. Oh, and the intrigue! There’s so much motivation from all sides, and then you have all of the interested backstabbing one another, and it almost never results in mustache-twirling. The only crude villain is d’Albret, but given the time period, I can look past that he’s an ale-guzzling louse. And it definitely keeps you guessing—it’s a book that you want to go back and reread immediately to see if you missed the clues. It’s a little predictable that Ismae would eventually question the convent’s targets and the motivations behind them, but it’s handled in a way that Ismae genuinely questions what she’s meant to do without giving up her true mission and calling. In any other book, a lot of the plot elements near the end would have come off as silly, but it works so well in here.This has everything that I love in historical books—loads of intrigue, compelling characters and the complex real world situations they deal with, the backstabbing, the costume porn (omg the costume porn in this—look at that cover for starters. Gah, I love it.). This is an excellent read, and I highly recommend checking it out.