Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Amazon Vine
Series? His Fair Assassin #1
His Fair Assassin #2: Dark Triumph
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Romance
Page Count: 549
Rating: [5/5 stars]
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart? (summary from goodreads)
Right before I started GRAVE MERCY, I had just finished two books that I really enjoyed. So I was hesitant to start another book, fearing that I would be disappointed, as I’ve read a lot of sub par books this year.
However, my fears were quieted with the first paragraph of GRAVE MERCY, and then blown away entirely by the end of the first chapter. I was reading in a coffee shop, and two hours flew by before I realized how sucked in I was!
The unwanted, fourteen-year-old daughter of a turnip farmer, Ismae is sold in marriage to a pig farmer for three silver coins. She thinks it is the opportunity for something more than her abusive father, but her new husband doesn’t want her either. After seeing her back, which bears scars from the poison used in a failed attempt to expel her from her mother’s womb, he beats her and locks her in a root cellar.
Ismae is spirited away from her new husband by hedge priests and herbwitches. They take her to the abbey of St. Mortain, where Ismae learns that she is the daughter of Death Himself. At the convent, she joins other god-sired girls in learning hundreds of ways to kill men. As St. Mortain’s daughters, the sisters carry out his wishes in the mortal realm, dealing death to those who deserve it.
Three years later, Ismae is sent back into the world to be the convent’s agent at the high court of Brittany. Brittany’s future ruler is Anne, a twelve-year-old duchess who has been promised to half a dozen nobles and more in an attempt to protect the duchy from France. The French king wants to claim Brittany as a possession.
At first, Ismae looks for every opportunity she can to carry out her god’s bidding, but to her dismay, she can’t just go around killing people. Even worse, she has to work with Gavriel Duval, who she may or may not be able to trust. Duval claims to be working towards securing Brittany’s future, but Ismae finds it difficult to trust any man.
GRAVE MERCY is so refreshing! It’s set in the fifteenth century, and many of the characters are based on real historical figures. Anne of Brittany really existed, and was stuck in the same situation. It’s not a period I’ve studied, so I don’t know how accurate the book is. According to the author’s website, she uses the time period as a canvas rather than sticking strictly to fact. It works, creating a rich backdrop for Ismae’s story.
Ismae is a kick ass character in her own right; she doesn’t need any magic or paranormal abilities to make her awesome. Yes, she’s a trained assassin, and the daughter of a god, but other than that, her abilities come from hard work and training. She grows so much over the course of the book. I really, really liked her character.
Duval is an interesting character as well. He has his own reasons for wanting to see Anne ordained as duchess, and you learn those reasons as Ismae does. There’s not a lot of information dumping in this novel despite the historical setting; the author gives you just enough to set the scene, adding other details as necessary.
I don’t want to spoil things too much, but I also enjoyed the romance in this story. That’s really unusual for me, since usually I don’t care for it at all, but here it advanced Ismae’s character, and was well done. There is no falling in love at first sight, which is a huge pet peeve of mine.
I was vaguely reminded of the Kushiel’s Dart series by Jacqueline Carey. If you’ve read it, you may see some similarities too. There’s a lot of political intrigue and moral questioning, as well as some adult topics (nothing too graphic, unlike Kushiel’s Dart). I think adults as well as older teens would enjoy GRAVE MERCY.
LaFevers’ writing style is immersing and engaging. The world she creates on top of fifteenth century Brittany and the mythology of the old gods — I could have gobbled up a book twice this length.
I’m definitely, definitely looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy. Spring 2013 is so far away. There’s so much more I want to know!
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