Source: Local Library
As I said in my starting line post, I've really been wanting to re-read this book ever since I finished the second in the series. The first time around was back before publication, and I was tearing through it, trying to get a handle on the political machinations and wanting to get to the good stuff between Duval and Ismae. This time around, because I was listening instead of reading, I got to slow down and I saw just how well-drawn the characters were, and how the good stuff was there between Duval and Ismae from the start.
I found it fascinating to see Ismae again. At the very, very beginning, raised with a brutish father and married off to a pig farmer at the age of fourteen, she has nothing and nobody. So her fierce loyalty to the convent and her pride in her own deadly skills are understandable. After all, before she acquired them, what was she?
Speaking of that, her attitude toward death is downright unsettling. I've been using the "assassin nun" as a booktalk hook basically since I read this the first time. But now as I listen, I realize that Beginning-of-the-Book Ismae views murder solely as an exercise of power. She is very casual, almost flippant, in considering murder because someone is being inconvenient. Her first kills are greeted with glee and a sense of accomplishment. Look! I won! Knowing how her views change at the end of the book makes this a more impressive starting place for her.
I've also been considering why I was so thrilled at the love story in this book. Besides my general bias toward romance, I think the answer lies in how Duval sees Ismae as compared to how others do. As a child, Ismae was an annoyance, an unwanted mouth to feed. In the convent, she is being honed as a weapon, like a beautiful knife. Neither setting permits her to be a full person. While in the beginning, he often gets exasperated with her impulsiveness and her black-and-white outlook, I never got the feeling that Duval viewed Ismae as anything less than a person, with strengths and vulnerabilities. Yes, she is an extraordinary killer, but she's also a loyal Breton and an intelligent woman, and the fact that Duval sees all these things in her is what made this romance really swoonworthy for me. You can have your star-destined love and your sparkly vampires, girls, I'll take this one.