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Literature / His Fair Assassin

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"Of course, many die without our help. However, there are those who deserve to die but who have not yet encountered the means to do so. At Mortain's bidding, we help them on their way."
The Abbess on St. Mortain's mission

A plot-heavy historical drama/romance trilogy by Robin LaFevers, revolving around the stories of three friends: Ismae, Sybella, and Annith — who are also all half-sisters, each being a Daughter of Mortain. Growing up in a convent under the tutelage of the handmaidens of Death and raised to be assassins themselves, they find themselves drawn into the political machinations of the power struggle between Brittany and France, as Brittany fights to retain its independence while France works to seize control of the country.

  1. Grave Mercy (2012): Ismae's book
  2. Dark Triumph (2013): Sybella's book
  3. Mortal Heart (2014): Annith's book


Tropes used in His Fair Assassin:

    Series-wide tropes 
  • Broad Strokes: While LaFevers Shows Her Work, she does take liberties. Notably, she compresses two years of events into one year by cutting out times when nothing interesting was happening.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Let's just say you shouldn't be planning on making any trips to the sovereign nation of Brittany.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: Each book in the series has a different narrator, with some overlap in chronology.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: While the real D'Albret was ambitious, cruel, and manipulative, it gets taken up to eleven in the series.
  • The Late Middle Ages: Set in the 1488, right before the fall of Brittany to the French.
  • Periphery Demographic: This series has a decent number of fans who dislike like the romance and historical genres.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Not the book, but the series appears to be shaping up this way with the second book being about Ismae's friend Sybella.

    Grave Mercy 
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: The French ambassador.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Ismae arries in time to stop D'Albret from raping Anne and Francois sends troops to protect Anne from the ambush.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: It involves 15th century European nobility, so this is more wide spread than the bubonic plague.
  • Consummation Counterfeit: Accidentally done. Ismae, is pretending to be the mistress of Viscount Duval in order to explain her presence at court. He visits her bedchambers every night for a few hours to keep up the ruse, but they do not have sex and Ismae is a virgin. However, when Duval tries to wake her from a nightmare, she immediately lashes out at him with a knife and ends up cutting him. The next morning, the housekeeper sees the blood on the sheets and kindly assures Ismae that "it will not always hurt so," much to Ismae's embarrassment.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Mortain is often referred to as a dark god, but is also considered merciful.
  • Divine Intervention: Mortain will mark the targets he wishes his handmaidens to kill. He also gives Ismae full understanding of her gifts, which also grants her the knowledge of how to save Duval.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: Mortain is actually a merciful deity and kind to his daughter.
  • Dramatic Drop: Ismae drops her goblet when the Abbess casually mentions that the convent kills people.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Abbess. One time she does sign a letter with her real name, Etienne de Froissard, but otherwise.
  • Femme Fatale: The handmaidens are trained in "womanly arts" in addition to killing.
  • Finger-Licking Poison: This is how Duval gets poisoned. Since this particular poison goes through the skin, the victim had no idea where it was picked up and only suspicions about who the poisoner was... Until Ismae realized that it was on the chess pieces, it quite the gutsy move considering the poisoner would also need to touch the tampered surfaces too in order to avoid suspicion.
  • Foreign Money Is Proof of Guilt: Defied. Ismae askes if anything incriminating, such as foreign coins, were found on an assassin. Duval responds that he had French coins, but since French currency is widely used in the area, it doesn't necessarily mean anything.
  • Funny Background Event: While talking to Duval, Ismae is cutting a pear and not paying attention to how much damage she is doing to it with her knife.
    Duval: Sweet Jesu! are supposed to eat it, not disembowel it.
    • Similarly, when Ismae is asked to assist in some embroidery, Duval comments on her lack of skill. Ismae responds that she is good at embroidery... with the back of the skull.
  • Honor Before Reason: Ismae refuses to assassinate anyone not marked for death either by the Convent or Mortain, no matter how much they need killing. The readers (and Ismae) are given a chilling look at what happens when someone steps outside of Mortain's grace: there is a void where their soul should be. Ismae has good reason not to kill anyone without Mortain's blessing.
  • Hope Spot: Marriage to Fedric would provide Anne both a good husband and a chance to secure Brittany's borders. Then he gets assassinated.
  • Improbable Antidote: Ismae herself!
  • Intimate Healing: This is how Ismae saves Duval, who has been poisoned. Being one of Death's daughters, and she has the ability to neutralize poison via skin-on-skin contact. While sex isn't strictly necessary, Duval certainly didn't object.
  • Karma Houdini: As of the end of the first book, numerous evil characters are still alive and well.
  • Knight Templar: All of the convent, and Ismae in particular, are willing to kill because Mortain says so.
  • Master Poisoner: Ismae is trained to be a Master Poisoner because she is completely immune to all poisons; the most she might feel is a light tingling sensation, and only if the poison is exceptionally strong. It's one of the rarer perks of being a daughter of Mortain. Ironically, it turns out that she is also a cure for any and all poisons. Prolonged skin-on-skin contact will draw poison out of anyone afflicted.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Several of Isame's feats could be the result of skill, luck, divine heritage, or direct intervention from Mortaine.
  • Missing Mom & Disappeared Dad: Ismae's mother died early and her father is never seen. Until near the end, anyway.
  • Rape as Drama: D'Albret tries to rape Anne partly to ensure that no other suitor would want her.
  • Somewhere, an Ornithologist Is Crying: Ismae mentions hummingbirds at least once. Hummingbirds are native to the Americas, and this takes place before Columbus's infamous hop across the pond. Ismae shouldn't even know hummingbirds exist.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: On a few occasions, characters start to explain their actions to Ismae without being asked. Since they usually either ignore or or treat her with contempt, this raises her suspicions.
  • Title Drop: Of the series title by Duval.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The herbwitch points out to Ismae's father that trying to kill the God of Death's lover and their child will probably not end well for him.
  • True Love's Kiss: Ismae is able to draw the poison out of Duval's body with a kiss, among other things.
  • Wicked Step Father: Ismae's father is scum, to say the least.

    Dark Triumph 
  • Big Damn Heroes: Beast and company show up at the end to pull Sybella out of harm's way.
  • Blood Knight: Literally, in the case of Beast: in battle (or at the faintest sniff of danger to himself or his friends) he is taken over by unshakable blood lust, and has stated that he does, in fact, enjoy his "work."
  • Driven to Suicide: Unsurprisingly given the abuse she suffered from D'Albret, Sybella tried to hang herself in the past. She's stopped, and told he isn't really her father. This cheers her up immensely.
  • Gentle Giant: Subverted by Beast. He's lighthearted, caring and honorable while still huge, hideous, and driven by battle lust.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Julian jumps in front of a blade meant for Sybella.
  • Les Yay. In-universe as invoked by Sybella. She lets her treacherous handmaid read more into her relationship with Tephanie in order to piss her off. Sybella also mentions casually to Ismae that Duval has much to thank her [Sybella] for, as Sybella was the one to teach Ismae how to kiss.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Sybella has no love for Mortain in the beginning, and only continues to consider herself to be his daughter because the alternative would mean considering D'Albret to be her father.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Sort of. The Beast throws a sword, and while the blade doesn't hit the target, the hilt does, which stuns the soldier long enough for Sybella to finish him off.

    Mortal Heart 

Alternative Title(s): Grave Mercy


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