Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: Grave Mercy by Robin Lafevers

From the Back Cover:

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?

My Thoughts:

"I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch's poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I have been sired by the god of death himself."

Brittany 1485. Ismae has led a tough life at the mercy of the superstitious villagers and at the hands of her abusive father, and she's about to enter into an even tougher marriage when she is saved by a strange priest who passes her along from safehouse to safehouse until she reaches the convent of St. Mortain. There she finds asylum and a new life. The nuns at St. Mortain are no ordinary nuns. They have been trained in the art of death; they believe themselves chosen by the god of death to carry out his bidding, and they have high hopes for Ismae. Ismae is happy to oblige, considering what her life could have been like, and happy to find a place where she finally belongs. She spends several years training to be an assassin before she is sent on her first mission, and then she is assigned the important role of protecting the young duchess Anne of Brittany.

What follows is a bit of an alternate history of Anne of Brittany's early life with Ismae in the thick of the political machinations. Anne leads a passionate set of nobles devoted to maintaining Brittany's independence from France, and Ismae must determine who among them is plotting with the French crown to overthrow her while taking out anyone the convent deems dangerous. But she finds herself growing closer to her young charge and her family, in particular Anne's handsome half-brother Duval. When the convent determines Duval means to harm his sister, Ismae knows better. And when the order she's been dreading comes from the convent and conflicts with what is in Ismae's heart, she faces her greatest challenge, and her greatest choice yet, for One heart cannot serve two masters.

Grave Mercy is something totally different in YA and I really enjoyed it. At first I was a little put off by how easily the girls at St. Mortain fell into their roles as assassins and how blindly they followed orders to kill people with no remorse, no conscience, no doubts. But there's some pretty good character development here, and by the end of the novel Ismae's eyes have been opened and I really like the way she starts to see things. She confronts her fears and misgivings while remaining true to what she believes and forging her own path.

My only real complaint is that I think this was a tad too long. Too many pages are devoted to tedious political byplay, and it takes Ismae an awfully long time to figure out that the convent's, and thus Mortain's interests, are so very closely aligned with those of an independent Brittany that there must be a very human power pulling the strings. This novel is the first of three, but by the end Ismae's story has come full circle and the ending is very satisfactory and well written. The remaining books will focus on the two other assassins Ismae has forged friendships with, Sybella and Annith, whose journeys are just beginning. Overall I thought Grave Mercy was a creative and deliciously dark historical with just the right amount of fantasy, romance, and adventure added in to make it a unique read in today's young adult book scene.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

*Please note: This review references an advance digital copy received from the publisher via NetGalley, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see a review of this one, I'm always looking for something different to read.


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