Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt*
Publication Date: 3 April 2012
Format: eARC via Netgalley; 549 pages
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?
I honestly did not know what to expect when I started reading Grave Mercy. As I’ve said before, I’m not fond of historical fiction and usually stray from it. However, when Grave Mercy became available to me, I looked further into it and I was drawn in from the blurb alone. Arranged marriages, assassins, god of Death and forbidden love are all the types of topics that I love in a book.
In Grave Mercy, we are introduced to seventeen year old Ismae. For years she has been treated with cruelty by her step father. Worse to that, she has been sold and married to this god-awful pigs farmer who is just as ruthless as Ismae’s stepfather. After the discovery of who she is, the daughter of the god, St. Mortain, evil pigs farmer locks her up. Not long, Ismae is rescued and sent to the convent of St. Mortain where she is trained to serve St. Mortain as a handmaiden of Death. This is Ismae’s saving grace and she welcomes the convent’s ways and teachings for their goal is to serve and carry out the will of St. Mortain and to protect the duchess of Brittany. In just a few short years, Ismae is ready to take on a first mission and when that is successful, she takes on a second. On this second mission, she has a run in with Gavriel Duval. He follows her back to the convent and is outraged at Ismae’s actions, stating that she is ruining his own mission to help the duchess. After this meeting, the reverend mother of the convent decides that Ismae should go with Duval back to court to be the convent’s eyes and ears. Although this is not what Ismae and Duval want, they have no choice in the matter and go along as told.
The whole storyline, to Grave Mercy is incredible and thought-provoking. Robin LaFevers managed to transport me into the story with Ismae and Duval. I could feel their urgency to discover the truth. I, too, wanted to find out who was betraying the duchess. More than once, I suspected almost everyone. You just don’t know who to trust and everyone and anyone becomes suspicious. Because of this, there is this sense of danger and suspense lurking every corner of the page that kept me on my toes throughout the whole story.
The pacing of the book was wonderful and the development of the overall story was clean. LaFevers weaves everything together beautifully and intricately. She ties loose ends and she keeps the story going with all the secrets hidden in the plot. Not once does the politics of the story outshine other aspects of the book. The politics in the court is somewhat hard to follow at first, but once I got the grasp of it, I was even more taken with the story. These are the parts of the book that intrigued me the most and I really loved learning about the court and all the ways in which they dealt with the matters at hand. I was swept up in the problems that Ismae and Duval thought needed to be solved and I loved being a part of that. The sheer brilliance of LaFevers’s creativity shines through and through the further I read and saw just how well she brings the whole story together.
I admit that I did have trouble with the writing to Grave Mercy since I’m not used to such formal language, but this did not hinder my enjoyment to the book. After a few pages, I was able to get pass my struggle and lose myself in the story and world of Brittany. LaFevers’s writing stays true to the era and the more I read, the more I was convinced that I was born into the wrong century. LaFevers really brought me to this time and place and I was quite saddened knowing that I would be brought back to our world and taken out of this one when I reached the end.
LaFevers has created one of the fiercest and best heroines I have encountered to this date. Ismae was more than amazing, she was extraordinary. She’s this fireball waiting to strike, a force to be reckoned with and this intense human being that is more than exceptional in nearly everything she does. I love the strength that Ismae has in Grave Mercy. Everything she has been through is just another notch that gives her more willingness to live and carry out her duties. The horrors of her past did not break her at all and she never seemed to give up. With that alone, I have admired Ismae more than I could say. Ismae learns to defend herself through the convent and I love how she can take on not one, not two, but three and possibly four men. She did not need Duval to defend herself, she was able to do so all on her own. I enjoyed discovering her fascinating abilities and I found that these, along with her personality make Ismae special and unique.
The warm, heavy weight of Duval's hand settles on my shoulder and I am rendered speechless as he bends down and places a kiss atop my head.
Ismae’s relationship with Duval starts off a little rough and they are quite hostile towards each other, but soon they set aside their differences and work together to protect the duchess. Not only do they work together as partners, their relationship develops into this slow, but steady romance. Soon enough, Ismae and Duval find that they are falling in love with each other. Ismae and Duval’s chemistry and sexual tension is highly palpable. I wanted nothing more than for them to just express their feelings towards one another. When they did, it was like everything fell into place. The way their love evolved from chapter to chapter was so beautiful and absolutely breath-taking. I saw Duval as this strong, smart and respectable character. I loved his true commitment and honorable stature. The subtle ways he showed concern and affection for Ismae really touched my heart. For Ismae, being with Duval changed her in many ways. She learned to be more compassionate and understanding. She learned to question before action, to relate to others, to find other solutions than outright killing. She saw that the ways of the convent are not set in stone. Ismae learned about mercy, and forgiveness, how to be honorable and kind. Most of all, she learned to love and to follow her heart and instinct.
Overall, I have completely fallen in love with Grave Mercy. From the plot, to the characters, to the romance and even the tragic and heart-breaking moments. It’s action-packed, super exciting and thrilling. Grave Mercy is a story filled with adventure, betrayals and lies of untrustworthy people, but it’s also about standing up for what is right and true. Grave Mercy is truly sensational.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
*Thanks to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for allowing me to read this book. In no way do they influence any opinion of this review. It is solely my own.
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