Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Author: Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Format: e-Book Galley ARC
Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, via NetGalley
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Dates Read: March 31-April 5, 2012
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?
This book was obtained freely from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve been drawn to allure of assassins for a while now. They hold my interest in movies, and any time there is an option to play an assassin-type character in video games, I generally do. However, my proclivities for assassin love had not yet extended to my reading habits. Grave Mercy is the first novel I’ve read about assassins, and it was a good one at that. Ismae has been a victim all her life. Her mother tried to expel her from her womb with a poison, leaving her disfigured with death’s mark. It is a source of shame for her, as she has been mocked and teased all her life. However, the superstitious association with her mark is much darker, as it brands her the daughter of Death. When she is forced into a deceptive arranged marriage, it is her husband’s glimpse of the mark that causes him to beat her mercilessly. However, it is also the meaning of her mark that allows her to escape to a convent serving the patron saint of death, St. Mortain. There she is trained in the arts and gifts she will need to begin her new life as an assassin, a handmaiden to Death himself.
Grave Mercy is a historical fiction novel with elements of fantasy, romance, mystery, crime, politics and betrayal. The novel is set in 15th century Brittany. Fans of European history may recognize the historical roots of the story — following the death of late Duke Francis II, the Bretons are attempting to secure the future of the independent Duchy of Brittany from France by ensuring the installation of Anne as Duchess. Ismae’s first assignment is to observe and act in the high court of Brittany, protecting the Duchess and delivering vengeance upon those marked as traitors by her patron saint, Mortain. Despite her training, Ismae is unprepared for what she finds there.
I enjoyed the novel quite a lot, even though it is considerably different from what I normally read. I hadn’t been a great fan of historical fiction thusfar, unless it had a big dose of steampunk favor and alternate history thrown in. In this novel, I found myself appreciating the historical setting. Again, I think this takes me back to video games and movies, where I like medieval settings. LaFevers did an excellent job immersing me in the time and place. It seemed to be rather historically accurate, from what I know, and there were no distracting disconnects from the setting (i.e., dialogue or other things that disrupt the reader’s immersion in the olden time). The idea of assassin nuns was definitely an intriguing one to me. I especially liked the character of Ismae. She had been abused all her life in different ways by her family and superstitious villagers. Watching her grow as she rises up from being the victim of a violent arranged marriage to a strong assassin to an independent woman that feels comfortable making her own decisions (even if she is afraid she is betraying the will of her god) is a treat, as I am a sucker for strong female characters rising up from questionable beginnings. Her slowly developing romance with Duval is also enjoyable, as are the supporting characters like Duval’s companions and Anne.
I’d recommend this novel to those with interest in the blurb. It’s definitely something different — a historical story of political intrigue, supernatural saints, talented assassins, betrayal and love. I found it to be an enjoyable ride, and I look forward to the next installment in the My Fair Assassin series.