Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Pages: 528 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC given to me by a friend.

Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain. 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 be willing to take the lives of others.

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany where she finds herself woefully underprepared--for how can she deliver Death's vengeance upon a target, who, against her will, has stolen her heart?


In one way or another, Ismae has always been aware she is the daughter of Death Himself. That she survived the poison used to expel her from her mother's womb is a testament to that. After escaping the horrible man she was arranged to marry, she is taken to a convent serving St. Mortain, the patron saint of death, and taught to be an assassin. An assignment--only her third outside the convent--takes her to the high court of Brittany, where the threat of the French always lingers, a young duchess struggles to retain power, and Ismae is forced to work together with Gavriel Duval to both accomplish her mission and help the duchess.

Fair warning: this book is practically made of Murphy's Law (whatever can go wrong will). If you think something is finally going right for the cast, it isn't going to last long.

Grace Mercy has a flawed beginning, but it gains strength as the novel goes on. Ismae's character, originally hard for me to grasp, developed well and her strong personality reverberates in my mind even now. Her conflict between doing what she is told is her duty as a handmaiden of death and doing what she knows is right felt real. Her love interest Duval took some time to get warmed up to because of his prickly behavior at the beginning, but seeing his absolute devotion to Anne and his improving behavior toward Ismae won me over.

Then we have Anne. Oh, Anne. She is treated like a prize for her duchy and was promised by her father to numerous noblemen trying to take what they were promised--without said girl's permission, of course. She is a sharp young woman who knows how to play the political games and never bows to the pressure put on her. She will be her own person, not someone's way to power and baby-maker. Still, she is not resistant to feeling vulnerable; an incident in the novel where someone close to her betrays her and a man attempts to sexually assault her leaves her feeling dirtied and afraid. Even more so than Ismae, Anne is a character to truly remember.

Our duchess Anne? Is twelve years old.

The high court of Brittany is full of intrigue and the book is well-plotted. Twists both expected and out of nowhere complicated matters further. As I said earlier, this book is practically made of Murphy's Law, and it borders on being over-the-top. Really, give these poor men and women a stroke of luck every once in a while instead of another pile of dead bodies. (And there are lots of dead bodies, let me tell you.) Descriptions of how Ismae's various assassin/Death's handmaiden-related powers work and how she deals with foes begged rereading just because they were that good.

I really, really, really want to give this book five stars because it was just that good, but one fatal flaw keeps me from doing that. Until we get to the Breton court where Anne and the rest of the major players are (and this happens around page 200), the book moves slowly and with little driving force. Oh, so close! I've disregarded such an issue with other five-star books because they kept me hooked despite that, but Grave Mercy was hard to keep picking up in the early pages. I pushed my way through and got to the good stuff and it was more than worth the wait.

Once Grave Mercy comes out, I whole-heartedly recommend it. Ismae's story seems to reach its conclusion by the end of the novel and it appears its companion novel Dark Triumph will center on Sybella, Ismae's half-sister (St. Mortain being their shared parent) and fellow assassin. Considering the quality of Grave Mercy and what little I saw of Sybella's character, it's a book I will save the date of.

4 stars! (But more like 4.5.)

What am I reading next?: Divergent by Veronica Roth

1 comment:

  1. Ooh-I am so excited to meet Anne. I am only about 100 pages in to the book with Ismae just about to start her mission with Duval and I am really enjoying it so far. Can't wait to find out everything else that will happen!


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