Publication: April 2012 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Thomas Allen & Son/audiobooksync.com
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it!
Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at 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 be willing to take the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany, where she must pose as mistress to the darkly mysterious Gavriel Duval, who has fallen under a cloud of suspicion. Once there, she finds herself woefully underprepared – not only for the deadly games of love and intrigue, 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?
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers had me hooked and entranced right from the beginning. Robin LaFevers has managed to evoke a strong since of the time period and place that she is writing about, to the extent that I felt as if I myself was embroiled in the court politics and romance.
Ismae is whisked away from a brutal marriage (on her wedding night) and taken to the convent of Saint Mortain, a place where she – who is believed to be sired by the god of death himself – can be safe and serve her father, Mortain. How? Oh, assassination. Yupp, by being a handmaiden of death, Ismae will help serve. I found Ismae to be a compelling character. She starts off with a sense of strength, and while her time at the convent led her to believe that no man would ever hold her interest and that many deserved death if they acted against the court, and that her abbess is always correct in her orders, through the assignment she is given, Ismae slowly learns that there is more to being a daughter of Mortain than just inflicting death and that she can learn to stand on her own. Duval helps a lot in growing Ismae’s sense of self and purpose. I really enjoyed the slow burn romance, and that while we could tell it was coming, the mystery and politics took center stage.
Grave Mercy is a large book, and a long audiobook, but its length is supported by a rich cast of main and secondary characters, wonderfully woven plots and intrigue, a teasing bit of romance and absolutely fantastic character development and world building. Each introduced characters had a part to play and served in keeping the real traitor hidden until the ultimate climax of the book. I had my suspicions, but would not believe them to be true (until the were) due to the twisting way that Robin LeFevers gives us hints and then seems to contradict them – but not. It’s wicked. No one can be trusted. Ismae can rely only on herself in the end to try and figure out the best way to save the Duchess Anne and still serve Saint Mortain.
I listened to Grave Mercy during the many long and not-so-long car trips this summer (I spend a lot of time in my car…) and I am definitely glad I did. The narrator is simply awesome, lending voices and accents to the characters to help create a sense of the time and place. I was initially wary of this book (historical fiction with assassins from a convent?) and had moments in the beginning of wondering if I’d connect with Ismae, but as the story continues, this is one novel you can really sink your teeth into and get lost in the action. I definitely recommend it, and highly suggest the audiobook!
Hardcover copy provided by Thomas Allen & Son in exchange for my honest review. Audiobook, upon which this review is based, was downloaded courtesy of audiobooksync.com‘s YA summer sync program. Thank you!