Assassin’s Heart is a romance in a medieval fantasy setting. The protagonist, Lillie, is a woman raised from a young age to be a ruthless assassin by an organization known as the Va’Shile. When we meet her, she is undercover as a palace servant, and all the court is awaiting the naming of King’s heir—whom the Va’Shile have assigned Lillie to kill once his identity is known.
While gaining the trust of servants in order to move freely about the castle, Lillie meets a handsome young stablehand named Nef, and the two soon fall in love. Despite her brutal upbringing, Lillie finds herself increasingly distracted by her new beau, as well as questions surrounding her past that nag at her mind—questions relating to her mysterious ability to communicate telepathically with animals, which troubles even the brave and handsome Nef.
The wheels of political machinations continue to turn. Complications ensue. Soon enough, Lillie and Nef find themselves fleeing the Va’Shile and hiding out at a brothel managed by a woman named Brava. But even as their relationship deepens, Lillie and Nef are increasingly drawn into a conflict with the Va’Shile which can only be ended with a lot of death.
Assassin’s Heart is first and foremost a romance. Once we get about a quarter of the way in, it seems Lillie and Nef are sneaking off every chance they get to fulfill their, ah, romantic desires. (Sometimes their romantic desires need fulfillment 3 or 4 times a day!) And they aren’t the only ones constantly running off to the bedroom, either; there are several other romantic sub-plots as well.
But Norse does a good job of balancing the sexy interludes with character development and plot twists. The story never grinds to a halt. Other things may grind to something, but never mind that now!
There isn’t a lot of description of the world in which the story takes place. Most of the descriptive passages are, as you might expect, about the physical attributes of the cast. Lillie and her red hair, Nef and his blue eyes, Master Jaidon and his… well, I don’t want to spoil everything!
All right, I’ll stop with the Nudge Nudge Wink Wink routine. There’s a lot of sex in this book, that’s my point. But there’s still a good story and a few other things that even those, like me, who don’t regularly read romance can find interesting.
For example, there’s a scene where Lillie is relishing finally being free from the confines of the Assassin’s Guild where she spent most of her childhood, and gets up in the middle of the night to dance in the moonlit corridors of the castle, with only statues and suits of armor for an audience. It’s very Gothic. Beautiful, but also slightly eerie, and Romantic in the artistic sense of the word, with a focus on creating a feeling rather than plot advancement. I liked it a lot.
Some of the reviews on Amazon—which are otherwise positive—bring up the issue that the characters often speak in very modern language. I admit, at first I noticed this and found it jarring. But as I kept reading, my attitude about it changed a little—because the story isn’t set in a specific time period, but just an unknown medieval-ish place, the modern phrases actually gave it a more distinct “flavor.” So, I guess it was jarring, but kind of in a good way, maybe? All told, I couldn’t make up my mind whether I liked this or not, but it certainly didn’t ruin the book for me.
Also, I really liked the character of Brava. I usually find prostitutes and brothels in fiction to be pretty tiresome—largely because there are so many works of fiction where I swear it feels like the entire economy is prostitution-based. But Brava worked as a character for me—her no-nonsense attitude, coupled with her dirty sense of humor, was very amusing.
This is an enjoyable romantic fantasy tale with enough non-romance plot that it will appeal to non-romance readers as well.