Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin, Book 1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Genre: YA Historical with paranormal elements
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Ismae Rienne was sired by Death, something that has cursed her her whole life. That is, until she escapes from her brutal father and an arranged marriage and is given sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain. The nuns who serve St. Mortain aren’t like any Ismae has ever heard of. They serve the god of death, and it is here Ismae learns that St. Mortain has graced her with certain gifts. Gifts that will serve her well as an assassin — a handmaiden of death.
Ismae’s newest assignment is one that will change her life forever. The convent is worlds away from the court of Anne, Duchess of Brittany. It is there that Ismae’s strength and devotion to St. Mortain will be tested. For she must pose as the mistress of Breton noble Gavriel Duval and uncover the identities of those who would betray Anne to France; a task that is more complicated than Ismae could ever imagine. Treachery abounds in Anne’s court, but the convent’s prime target is Duval. Ismae knows in her heart that Duval’s innocent, but can she prove it? Time is running out, for more than Duval’s life rests on the choices Ismae makes.
I have one word for Grave Mercy: spellbinding. Robin LaFevers begins the His Fair Assassin trilogy with a voluptuous novel of death, danger, intrigue, and romance, and I am hooked!
Ismae Rienne is a heroine unlike any I have read about in a long time. There’s a grace and inner beauty to her that shines through the pages of Grave Mercy, but what really captivated me about her was her strength, intelligence, and personal code of honor. Though the nuns of her convent have given her a purpose, Ismae learns that there is more to serving St. Mortain than blindly following the convent’s teachings. Her growth as a handmaiden of death was utterly engaging.
In Grave Mercy, Ismae witnesses the deadly side of court politics in the Duchess of Brittany’s court. At the center of the intrigue is Gavriel Duval, the duchess’s illegitimate half-brother. Ismae’s been sent to determine if Duval is a traitor, but though there are many close to the duchess who will betray her, it’s clear that Duval is not one of them. In Gavriel Duval, Ms. LaFevers has created a hero who captivates and softly seduces the readers as well as Ismae. Duval’s unflinching loyalty, tenderness with those he cares about, and bone-deep honor made me fall for him from the first. Though the romance in Grave Mercy is understated (at least, it is to someone who primarily reads adult romance novels), it fits the book and characters perfectly. Ismae and Duval’s love story was perhaps my favorite aspect of Grave Mercy, for it unfolded over the course of the story beautifully.
A wealth of political intrigue keeps Grave Mercy moving at a fast pace. Given that the book is 549 pages, you’d think there’d be a slow moment here or there. There isn’t. It’s clear that Ms. LaFevers is a master at her craft. There’s not a dull or dragging moment, which is sometimes difficult to pull off when all the characters are fully fleshed out and each twist and turn of the story is completely organic.
In general, I’m picky when it comes to reading young adult novels. I have nothing against them, but I don’t often connect with the characters or writing style. I’m so, so glad I picked up Grave Mercy, because it’s a new favorite read of mine. There isn’t a single thing I didn’t love about the first His Fair Assassin book, unless I count having to wait for the second story, Dark Triumph, to be released.
Whether you like historical fiction, romance, unique characters, the twists and turns of court intrigue, or are just interested in reading an incredibly well-crafted novel, Grave Mercy is the book for you. Brava, Ms. LaFevers!