This is my last post in my Sci-Fi/Fantasy YA for Adults series (for now, I reserve the right to come back to this subject!). So far, I’ve talked about books where the teenage protagonist often has adult responsibilities and who grows into their power quickly. In some ways, the His Fair Assassin trilogy, by Robin LaFevers is similar to these: all the female protagonists are women and they’re all teenagers. However, because these novels are set in in 15th century Brittany, teenage girls, by society’s standards, are adults.
One of the things I appreciate most about this series is LaFevers attention to historical detail, even though this is a fantasy series. The story follows three assassins, attached to a fictional convent devoted to the god of death, Mortain. The larger story is centered around the political struggle of the Anne, Duchess of Brittany, and eventually Queen of France. This part of the story is mostly true and if you don’t mind some spoilers, LaFevers sorts out what’s true and what’s not on her website, which is very cool. Those of you who remember my love of the All Souls Trilogy are probably not surprised that I love these books, given my penchant for paranormal historical fiction.
In the His Fair Assassins novels, the protagonists, Ismae, Sybella and Annith are friends and daughters of Mortain, one of the Nine Gods (who are based on real Celtic gods). The daughters of Mortain act as political assassins in Brittany and are thought to have the supernatural ability to see those marked for dead by Mortain. They are essentially blameless for their assassinations because they are sanctioned by their god. As the series progresses, this belief is called into question and the three assassins are caught up in the political drama of Anne of Brittany’s court during its conflict with France to stay independent.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the series is that each book focuses on a different protagonist: Grave Mercy is Ismae’s story, Dark Triumph is Sybella’s and finally Annith gets her turn in Mortal Heart. Grave Mercy establishes the three as friends and confidants in the convent of Mortain and the books follow them as they go out into the world on their first assignments as assassins. The reason this turns out to be such an attractive feature of the books is that LaFevers’ rich characterization of each protagonist is vastly different and as a result you see the story unfold in a variety of ways, while still getting to follow the same cast of characters to the resolution of the story.
One of the reasons I usually like to fantasy in YA is that even when authors tackle serious subjects, the result is usually fun. However, these books aren’t what I’d call “fun.” They’re dark, deep and swimming in character development. They remind me a lot of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm novels (another series I’d heartily recommend to adults getting into YA) in that LaFevers isn’t afraid to go deep into the darkest parts of her character’s lives.
Out of the three novels, Sybella’s story, Dark Triumph, surprised me the most, but ultimately it was my favorite because I cared about Sybella so much. I was a little shocked at first that LaFevers chose to take on subjects like incest, sexual assault and child abuse, but I think she does so with a great deal of sensitivity. I do feel like I needed to mention this though, for readers who might be especially affected by such storylines. I never want anyone to get into stories that detail subjects like these without warning. Child abuse and brutality against women is a common theme throughout the novels, reflecting the historical period’s treatment of anyone “different” and threatening. I do think that fans of Cashore’s Graceling series will enjoy these books, not because they are similar in worldbuilding (because they really aren’t), but for the similarity in the authors’ choices to incorporate struggles that are unique to women’s life experience.
You might wonder why I didn’t include the Graceling books in this series of posts, given that I strongly recommend them to all readers. The main reason I chose not to cover them is that they are widely recognized as a high quality fantasy series and a lot has already been written about them. I chose to write about series for these posts that I haven’t seen as much coverage for recently. Another series that made the short list for these posts is the Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson. It’s likely that I’ll pick up the YA for Adults series in the future, but in the meantime, feel free to ask for recommendations any time!
Thank you so much for following along and I hope that adult sci-fi and fantasy reader who may have been wary of YA in the past will find something they enjoy here. If you missed the first two posts in the series, click here for the first and here for the second.
Allison Carr Waechter is a writer, a teacher, and an avid sci-fi/fantasy reader. Tweet at her, she likes to procrastinate.