Release date: April 3, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Source: Net Galley Advance Copy
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?
Sometimes, when you're least expecting it, a book comes along that's so brilliant...so breathtaking...that it reminds you that YA books don't always have to be written as YA books.
Most teens are more than capable of reading at the same level (or higher!) as the older (I prefer the term 'mature') generation YA book lovers.
Grave Mercy is such a book.
Set in the late-15th century in English-speaking Brittany--which was in North-West France-- Ismae (LOVE her name, by the way!) is born bearing the mark of Mortain--the God of Death--after her mother's attempt to terminate her pregnancy with poison fails.
Because she bears the mark, her childhood is...difficult, until the night she's spirited away to the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns to serve Death himself...by becoming Death's handmaiden. An assassin.
Ismae is a phenomenal character. I connected with her immediately. Although set in a time where women were seen as weak and compliant, Ismae is strong and intelligent and intimidating, when she needs to be.
The setting and background of the era almost become characters themselves, they're written and described so wonderfully. Ms. LaFevers brings them to life so vividly that I almost felt like I was living inside the book. I could see the cities and towns, the castles and gardens and roads and forests.
And the costumes? Absolutely beautiful. I can still close my eyes and see Ismae's simple habit. Anne's glorious dresses. Duval's dark attire.
And speaking of Anne...Loved her. And it doesn't hurt that she was a REAL person, Anne, Duchess of Brittney! The history surrounding Anne in the book is based on what's written in OUR history books, which I found VERY cool!
Of course, I can't forget Duval. Ah, Duval. I'm not ashamed to admit I fell completely head over heels for him. Mysterious, yet kind and sweet and gentle. Le sigh.
And there are all manner of minor characters that you'll also come to love, and to hate...and some will even make you cry.
Yes, yes...I sobbed like a baby during one specific, heartbreaking scene--A scene that I didn't expect would be as emotional as it was, which is yet another testament to Ms. LaFevers' wonderful writing.
Have I gushed enough, yet? ;)
Grave Mercy IS book 1 in the series, but it's also a stand-alone novel with a satisfying conclusion. Book 1 follows Ismae...but she's is only ONE of the handmaidens training at the convent. Book 2 follows another assassin, Sybella, who we do meet in this first book....but that's not to say their stories don't intertwine a wee bit. ;)
I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book to teens 15 and up, and to adults. If you like historical fiction, supernatural fiction and assassin nuns, you'll adore Grave Mercy.
It was a true pleasure to read such a brilliantly written YA novel.
I'm DEFINITELY looking forward to book 2, Dark Triumph!