Author: Robin LaFevers
Published April 3rd 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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?
The very concept for Robin (R.L.) LaFevers’s Grave Mercy sets the bar high. We’re promised a unique novel full of strong female characters. Not only are they strong females, but hellooooo, they’re assassins. NUN assassins and therefore all kinds of original and bad-ass.
But it’s not only the assassins (NUN ASSASSINS!) who are strong women in Grave Mercy. The duchess of Brittany, Anne, is another shining example of a strong female. Despite her young age, she deals with betrayal after betrayal and the multitude of responsibilities thrust upon her shoulders.
The main character Ismae, a novice of the convent of St. Mortain, is not someone I’d ever consider weak, though she doubts herself upon occasion. She goes on a very personal journey wherein she learns to trust people beyond the nuns who saved her from a future of abuse and trained her to defend herself.
What I found captivating about the character of Ismae was that she’s so consumed with remaining under her own power and thinking of herself as strong that it almost blinds her to her to that very power. She blindly follows the instructions of her abbess and her convent, and by the end of the novel she’s grown so strong, both physically and emotionally that she isn’t afraid to think for herself.
LaFevers’s Grave Mercy is steeped in history, and she brings it to life with amazing authenticity. It’s easy to imagine that some of the characters who were real people undergoing some of the very real events portrayed in Grave Mercy possessed the traits and personalities she bestows on them.
The details and setting are also well-imagined. In fact, the novel feels almost decadently atmospheric.
I love courtly intrigue and Grace Mercy boasts scads of it, made extra awesome with the authenticity factor. Whose loyalties lie with who? Who wants what outcome? What motivates them? What the friggin’ hell are all of their schemes and plotting and what on earth are they up to? LaFevers pulls it off beautifully.
And then we have the romance. Bada-bing, baby. LaFevers sealed the deal for me by winding all of the other element that I fell in love with around a romance that developed– NAY, BLOSSOMED– over time and believably. And HOORAH for a non-douchey male lead, who doesn’t stalk a main character and claim that it’s because she is denying her attraction for him.
Overall rating: 5/5. Basically, I fell in love with Grave Mercy in every way possible. If you’re looking for a stellar historical novel with a touch of paranormal, THIS is it. It made me want to seek out more recs (*cough* comments please). I need a finished copy of this book sitting on my bookshelf. New. Series. Obsession.
P.S. I’m not always a fan of “girl in a dress” covers, but this one actually fits the book inside.