(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
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’ve been tempted by this book for almost a year now, when it really took off amongst the book blogs of the world. There has been an incredible amount of hype about Grave Mercy and it seems a very popular book with my fellow bloggers. So we must ask ourselves, once again, does it deserve all of the hype?
Yes. Actually, it does. The hype almost doesn’t do it justice.
Set in the Middle Ages with a few modifications, Grave Mercy is just one of those books that when you start, you can’t stop. The intrigues of Anne’s court and council, the tension between Ismae and Duval and the fast pacing of the plot make for a great read. I spent a whole afternoon on this book, something I rarely do anymore because of time constraints, but I just could not put it down. Ismae herself is a great, believable character who escapes a terrifying arranged marriage and eventually finds herself taught and indoctrinated in the ways of St. Mortain, the old god and new saint of death.
So is this an historical novel or is it completely set in a fantasy world? I had to look this up, but apparently Robin LaFevers did all her research and set the story in 15th century Europe and stayed true to the politics of the time. The only made up part would be the specific ‘saints’ or ‘gods’ mentioned in the book and the group of female assassins. (Obviously, the divine/magical elements are made up as well.) Other than that, Grave Mercy is actually pretty historically accurate, which if you’re a lover of history adds that extra layer of enjoyment.
I love political thrillers to some extent, so I really appreciate all of the political intrigues Robin LaFevers included. Betrayal, hidden allegiances and secret contracts all ratchet up the tension and drive the plot forward as Ismae tries to navigate the tricky politics of the times while trying to figure out her own feelings for the handsome Gavriel Duval, the duchess’ half brother. As you’re reading this, just remember that not everyone is as they seem and some characters will really, truly surprise you.
It’s hard to explain what makes Grace Mercy so great, but I think it’s a combination of very three dimensional, relatable characters, a fast-paced plot and rich mythology woven into the time period where it takes place. Not only that, Robin LaFevers is an excellent writer who knows how to balance dialogue and description without boring her readers to death. The cliffhanger at the end is also a good incentive to read the next book, Dark Triumph which stars Sybella instead of Ismae.
I give this book 5/5 stars.