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)
Grave Mercy is an original and compelling story that will keep you glued to its pages...not to mention the assassin nuns!
Born with a horrific scar across her back thanks to the poison her mother drank in order to abort her, Ismae has grown up at the hands of an abusive father, feared by the people of her village - for Ismae is a daughter of Death…or so she has been labelled. Forced to wed, and then abused by her new husband, Ismae is finally spirited away from those who would see her dead, taken across Brittany to a Convent of Saint Mortain. Here Ismae learns she really is a daughter of Death and finds her true purpose in life – to be Death’s handmaiden, an assassin. After killing an intended target, a French spy, Ismae is assigned to attend Court, keep an eye on Anne, the new Duchess, and discover the identity of a traitor – all while under the observation of Gavriel Duval, Anne’s brother and trusted confidant. Duval knows Ismae’s true purpose, but his questions cause Ismae to sway in her beliefs. As they grow closer, they can’t help but be drawn to each other. But Duval is the suspected traitor, and when the order comes to kill him, will Ismae be able to do so? Will she remain loyal to Death…or follow her heart?
Wow. Just wow, wow, WOW! I knew from the moment I first read the synopsis for this that I had to have it and would love it - I wasn't wrong. LaFevers is genius. Everything about this book worked in a way that left me giddy, eager for more. From killer nuns, to meaningful characters; kick ass action to fascinating mythology; LaFevers has created an intriguing world of power, politics and change...with a dash of romance!
This isn't eloquent, but...Ismae rules! She's everything I love in a heroine. Strong enough to rise above the abuse she suffered growing up, she isn't just kick ass, she's deadly - a trained assassin, able to see Death’s Mark and impart his justice. More than anything though, Ismae thinks, and I'm so appreciative of that. Too often I admire a strong female character but still shake my head at some of their rushing head long into a situation without thinking it through, just a little. Now don't get me wrong, early on Ismae blindly follows the orders of her abbess, but as she faces the world alone, learns and grows, she begins to question what she's been taught and define her own beliefs; she's willing to wait and piece it all together before acting. Then of course when she does act...be prepared to be awed and amazed...and possibly a little scared! Added to all of this though, is also the fact that Ismae cares, deeply. She’s strong and vulnerable all at once. I adored her growing friendship with Anne, and her caring for Isabeau. It is Ismae’s figuring out her purpose towards the end, on the battlefield, however that most resonates with me – LaFevers’ portrayal of her compassion is truly emotional and beautiful, to the point that I wanted to cry. Ismae is a character that is sure to be remembered!
I can’t not mention Duval here, our handsome hero! He plays such a big part in both the book and Ismae’s development as a character. Loyal, determined, protective and caring for his sisters’ well-being above all else, it’s nearly impossible to not adore Duval. Certainly Ismae tries! I enjoyed the romance of Grave Mercy, as I’d hoped. While their relationship starts off rocky, Ismae and Duval soon warm to each other as they get to know one another and learn to admire their separate beliefs. They have these moments that just ooze tension and you simply can’t resist the need to keep reading in order to find out how they work out. They see each other for who they really are and anyone who can appreciate that is going to melt over these two!
There is a lot to Grave Mercy, especially in terms of the politics of the time and situation. Sometimes the story slowed down a little during the many discussions of Anne’s suitors and the best political options for Brittany, but at the same time it’s intriguing, and so I never felt bored, as it were. I think the detail is necessary for an historical fiction, everything working to transport readers to this time and place completely. I found the mythology of the novel quite fascinating in this sense too. While LaFevers does not go into a lot of detail regarding the Old Religion and the many Saints, the tidbits shared regarding Mortain, otherwise known as Death, are truly interesting. His fathering young girls who become trained assassins, his handmaidens; their different abilities, from the Sight to being immune to poisons, to seeing his Mark on intended ‘victims’; his connection to Isame and her compassion; all of it is enthralling. In this way Grave Mercy is a wonderfully immersive read.
A lot of LaFevers secondary characters add to this too. As with much fiction focused on royalty and the nobility, there are many names to learn and purposes to distinguish between. From the Sisters and novitiate’s of the Convent, to Duval’s estranged mother and brother; the loyal knights, Beast and de Lornay, to Anne’s many suitors, including the shudder inducing Count d’Albret; from the members of the Privy Council to France’s representatives; each character has a part to play, whether small or large in the grand scheme of things. Sybella, Ismae’s fellow novitiate and Death’s handmaiden, is one of the more captivating of these characters. Despite a rather minor role throughout Grave Mercy, each scene she appears in or is even simply mentioned in, stands out, thrumming with tension – you can’t help but know there’s more to Sybella and want to find out the truth. Of course, readers have to wait for the publication of the sequel, Dark Triumph, which features Sybella’s story! Please, can I have it now?!
Grave Mercy is well on its way to being a favourite of 2012 for me. A thrilling story, every fan of historical fiction will want to read this…and even if you’re not a huge fan of historical fiction, give this one a go, because I think you might be pleasantly surprised!
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published date: 03 April 2012
Series: His Fair Assassin, book 1
Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley!!
Challenges: 2012 Debut Author Challenge;