Synopsis (From Goodreads):
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?
I admit that I first wanted to read Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers based on the stunning cover art. A medieval girl in a long, red dress holds a crossbow and seems like she has just run from a confrontation. Of course I am intrigued. I found this book to be so entertaining, filled with secret societies, complicated alliances and betrayals, and even romance. I loved it!
What I Liked:Secret Society:
Ismae is marked from birth as a daughter of St. Mortain (the god of death). Escaping from the brutality of her father and an arranged marriage, she enters a convent who serves St. Mortain. Ismae gladly throws herself into training as an assassin.
The convent is not only a school, they keep tabs on the political situation in their country (Brittany), and somehow decide when to release an assassin on traitors.
One of the main questions in the story is how the Abbess decides who needs to be killed. Does she know from the Abby's Seer, from gathering intelligence, or from the convents own quest for power? Should Ismae blindly follow her orders? Or does she have any free will?
Complicated Court Intrigue:
I love a good historical royal story. This book is based partly on facts from medieval history. There are alliances and double-crossing that occurs at a dizzying rate. This all centers on the small country of Brittany. The ruler (a duke), dies, leaving his twelve-year old daughter as his heir. She needs to marry, but has been promised to several different people all at once! Who should she marry? What alliance will help Brittany in it's struggle to remain independent of France? The author does a wonderful job of helping the reader untangle the web of schemes and double-dealing that swirls around the story.
In order to gain access to the royal court, Ismae must pose as the mistress of Duval, one of the late Duke's bastard sons. He knows Ismae is an assassin, and neither trust each other. I liked how Ismae developed her feelings for Duval over a long time. It wasn't instantaneous for either of them. They both win each other's trust and respect. I liked that their attraction went further than skin deep.
What I Didn't Like:There was only one part in the book that I hated, but as it is my policy to not give away spoilers, I will not say exactly what it is. A person was in danger and the resolution was incredibly stupid. Here's a hint:
It is actually a small quibble, but when this happened in the book, I hooted with laughter at how ridiculous this was!
Important Update: I just had the most wonderful interaction with the author, Robin LaFevers, on Twitter! She took the time to explain that she didn't intend the scene to be that sexual. I appreciate that she took a chance and reached out to me (in a very respectful manner, BTW). I also wonder about myself that I jumped to that conclusion... Oops!
Aside from this, I adored Grave Mercy. It had so much excitement, intrigue, and swoon-worthy romance. There are further books in this series, and I love that each one seems to focus on a different female assassin. I can't wait to read them.
Release Date: April 3rd, 2012
Genre: YA historical fantasy
Source: Public Library
Recommendation: A fast-paced adventure set in Medieval Europe, with a touch of fantasy. Read it.