So I was kind of hard-pressed not to pick this book up when I heard it was about assassin nuns.
No, seriously, assassin nuns. Just take that in for a moment.
It is every bit as awesome as it sounds. In fact, given it is that odd and almost-impossible-to-find combination of fantasy and historical fiction, it's probably more awesome than it sounds.
Ismae is one of those characters that is hard not to root for. She manages to be strong and pull herself out of a bad situation without every coming across as either "poor pitiful me" or "I'm just that amazing," which is a hard balance to strike and to maintain. Her life before the convent is terrible, so watching her slide into life among her new sisters is enjoyable.
Also, there's a lot about poison.
If I have a real solid complaint about the book, it is that there is not enough time spent on her training. I'm not sure if I'm unusual in this regard or if I just read too many Harry Potter books as a child (the latter is impossible, of course.), but I do love watching people get a magical education, and missing what felt like so many of the details of that was upsetting.
The political intrigue was fascinating. The fact that it was both magical and very much based in fact made it even better than it would have been had it been solidly one or the other, and I was very invested in the plotline. The author did a good job with keeping me guessing who I ought to trust, and although I had figured out by the end who the culprit was, it was still a powerful ending.
The romance was decent and kept me interested, and although it was not my main draw to the book, it added another layer of interest to things for me. Ismae's occasionally idiocy regarding it was sometimes annoying, but never ridiculous and also never felt out-of-place for the person she was and the situation in which she had grown up, so it was acceptable.
I enjoyed this enough I did try to pick up the next book immediately, though the fact that it is focused on another one of the sisters delayed my interest somewhat and I have yet to finish it. It is not that I am not intrigued by her potential story (I bet it is honestly fascinating--she was a great character), but I was looking for more about Ismae, and it did not suit the bill at that point. I do need to get back to it sometime soon, because the world built (and borrowed from history) here is a fascinating one, and I'm intrigued to see what else may befall this very special convent.