Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Sired by Death, shunned by most, Ismae is whisked away from a life impoverished in both status and affection, to a convent devoted to Death and His many ways of assisted dying. There, she discovers acceptance and a purpose as Ismae trains in Death’s dark arts to become a handmaiden to Saint Mortain, an assassin to dole out the vengeance her victims deserve for the wrongs they’ve committed.
The young femme fatale finds herself undercover and in over her head as she poses as a paramour to the infuriating Gavriel Duval, the future queen’s most trusted advisor. As they work Brittany’s high court to ensure the Duchess’ life and throne, it’s becoming clear Ismae maybe a pro at killing, but the ingenue is nothing more than a novice when it comes to politics and intrigue. Making matters worst Gavriel questions the validity of Ismae’s blinding trust when it comes to the convent’s orders and teachings. Can Ismae find redemption and mercy in a business as grave as Death’s dealings? Or will this assignment break her beliefs along with her heart.
Robin LaFevers debuts her first venture into the land of YA with stunning grace and poise. Richly written, full of action, intrigue, political power struggles and betrayals, Grave Mercy makes you wonder why LaFevers hasn’t strayed from juvenile fiction sooner.
My first impressions of Grave Mercy is that it doesn’t have the look and feel of a young adult novel. The situations and characters are age appropriate for the times, and LaFevers writing while enjoyable with witty and clever comedic moments on virtually every page, seems more suited for an older audience. The author’s beautiful writing may overstep typical YA prose veering into the realm of adult, but I hope that doesn’t deter readers from this series. I found Grave Mercy reminiscent of Maria Snyder’s Study Series, with less magic and grounded in a historical reality. Fans of period fiction and Snyder’s work will find a lot to love about this book. I am not sure about the accuracy of LaFevers world building, but the book is historically believable. It was easy to get lost in the cadence of medieval dialogue, amidst all the author’s vivid descriptions of customs, costumes, and landscapes. I found LaFevers to be fearless with her sometimes striking sacrifices and underlying social tones of feminine inequality, constantly referencing women being little more than another form of female currency or livestock. The characters were interesting, multidimensional, and flawed. Ismae is a heroine akin to Katniss, prepared to confront the world, who’s fiercely loyal and devoted to the ones she cares for, yet completely oblivious to the love that’s right in front of her. I found all the motivations, politics, hidden agendas and mythology combined to create a truly mesmerizing story.
Grave Mercy was a little lighter on the assassinations and supernatural than I was expecting, but what the book lacked doesn’t matter when you’re lost in such an amazing world and story line. So be the sheep and flock to this book, then be the wolf and devour every page.