Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
released: April 3rd, 2012
hardcover, 549 pages
intended audience: Young adult
series: His Fair Assassin, Book 1
source: from publisher for honest review
description: 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?
Review: When I delved into the pages of Grave Mercy, I found myself immediately drawn in to the fantastic atmosphere of a country on the brink of war and change, a people who still worshiped the ancient gods, and a convent veiled in mystery where the nuns are trained to carry out the will of the patron saint of death, St. Mortain.
Ismae is such an interesting character. When she finds herself at the convent, she quickly relishes the idea of becoming an assassin. While this could have just come across as heartless and violent on her part, you can easily see her side---the only thing she had ever known is cruelty. All she knows of her mother is that she tried to have an herbwitch remove her from her womb with a poisoned branch. All she's gotten from her father is cruelty and hate, until she is sold to a vicious, barbaric husband. So she easily swears her oath to serve Mortain, and is trained in the art of weaponry, poisons, luring in her victims---everything she might need to carry out her duty. There is also a little of a paranormal touch to the story, as Ismae has the ability to communicate with a newly dead soul, can sense when death is coming to someone naturally, and is immune to all poisons. It's an amazing journey to watch what she does with this new life she's fallen into and what she learns along the way.
The storytelling is incredibly engaging. There is political intrigue, a bitter fight for the hand of a young duchess, plotting and scheming and murdering, all grandly played out by a huge cast of amusing characters, some of who truly surprised me by the end. At the front of the book there is a character index, and this really came in handy a few times---with such a long, complex story and so many characters, they can be hard to keep straight at times! My favorites were Beast---named for his looks and his ferocity in battle, but such a funny, big-hearted character with an almost instant connection with Ismae---and the duchess, Anne. I felt so much for her with such a huge burden on her young shoulders and loved her bond with Ismae. The love story was perfectly done---a slow-blossoming attraction that goes against everything Ismae thought she was and believed in.
This one was so very close to a 5-rating for me. On the whole, I loved the rich, elaborate storytelling and wonderful characters. But there were just one or two times where my attention started to wander and one very important predicament that I couldn't help but feel was solved just a bit too conveniently. Other than that, it was a wonderful historical fantasy and one that I highly recommend.
One last very good note: Grave Mercy is part of a series, but it's a complete story that stands alone. The next book will be about Sybella, another of Ismae's sisters in the convent. I am definitely looking forward to continuing this series and learning more about Sybella!
Robin LeFevers has a gorgeous website! Visit here: www.robinlafevers.com
Purchase Grave Mercy at: Amazon • BN.com • BookDepository • Indiebound