Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Genre: YA Historical Paranormal
Series: His Fair Assassin (Book 1)
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 549 Pages
ISBN-10: 054762834X (Houghton Mifflin)
ISBN-13: 978-0547628349 (Houghton Mifflin)
Reviewed by: Emmy
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?
Quick & Dirty: Brittany, with its complex politics and old religion, is brought to life in this medieval world of assassins and betrayal. This page-turner has all the romance and mystery a reader could ask for!
Opening Sentence: 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.
Nun assassins. With those two words I was already hooked into this book. I mean, talk about something I’d never read before. But these aren’t your average nuns, instead they are followers of the old gods who use the convent as a way to practice their religion while escaping persecution. A good way of keeping anyone with strong religious sensibilities from being offended, in my opinion, and it works as a great plot point. This book begins on an ominous note, with Ismae being sold into marriage to a pig farmer who will be as abusive as her father was. But let me start by saying that it isn’t overly violent by any means, despite being about assassins.
An unwanted spawn of Mortain, the god-turned-saint of death, she is hated by all those who recognize her. It isn’t until her wedding night that she’s secreted away to a convent and joins her fellow daughters of Mortain. After she passes the tests and is healed from the abuse inflicted by the pig farmer, she begins her training.
Poisons, hand-to-hand, knives, crossbows, all the wiles a woman might need to when sneaking around in a pub or a ballroom are taught at the convent.
But tensions are running high between France and the Duchy of Brittany, especially when it comes to Anne the future Duchess. There are spies and schemes that make it clear no one can be trusted at court. No one has Anne’s best interests at heart, or even that of the duchy. Except perhaps Gavriel Duval, Anne’s abrasive half-brother. Originally sent to court to determine Duval’s loyalties it quickly becomes clear that he might be the only one who is exactly what he seems. Far from the convent and the sisters’ guidance, Ismae is forced to rely on her instincts and the Marques of Mortain to guide her hand.
The marques are shadows that stain a person’s skin in a manner reflecting their death. If a marque is on your lip, you might be poisoned or smothered. The convent uses these marques to determine the will of their father, who should live and who to kill. As the politics in court great on Ismae’s nerves and instincts, her hunt for marques becomes more intense and even less fruitful. But Ismae is first and foremost a daughter of Mortain, she will always let his hand guide her actions. When the convent sends a note for Duval to be killed, Ismae finds herself questioning their orders and for the first time wondering exactly how the marques work, as well as whether the convent has their facts straight.
By no means is Ismae the only daughter of Death haunting the world of Brittany’s court. Her friend Sybella is seen, once, on the fringes of the world Ismae must now inhabit. But without any way to make contact and Sybella’s mysterious words haunting her, Ismae begins to wonder exactly what kind of mission the convent sent Sybella on all those months ago. And what, if anything, it has to do with making Anne duchess.
I am not a huge fan of political books, but Grave Mercy did a great job of drawing me into the world of backstabbing politicians and courtly intrigue. Sometimes it was hard to remember that Ismae is barely seventeen and Anne is twelve. They live in a world where girls are forced to be women quickly, and LaFevers does a great job of balancing their youth and their responsibilities. Ismae and Duval’s relationship developed gradually, as each proved their trustworthiness to the other and tentatively showed their vulnerabilities. I loved being able to see Ismae as the assassin and as the young woman who’d been betrayed by every man in her life.
“We punish those who betray our country.” My words are as soft and tender as a lover’s caress, and Martel shudders as death claims him.
Just as I relax my grip, a thick warmth rises up from his body and rubs against me, like a cat rubbing its owner’s leg. Images fill my mind: a fleet of ships, a sealed letter, a heavy gold signet ring, my own breasts. The warmth swirls briefly within me, then dissipates with a sudden whoosh, leaving me chilled and shaken. what in Mortain’s name was that?
The words come unbidden. Almost as if someone else — the god, perhaps? — has spoken them.
Why has no one at the convent warned me of this? Is this one of the glories of Mortain that Sister Vereda spoke of? Or something else? For I cannot decide if I have just been violated in some way or granted a sacred trust.
But I have no time for reflections. I shove my questions aside and brace myself against the man’s body, trying to balance his weight as I unwrap the garrote from his neck. I wipe it clean on his doublet, then retract the wire into the bracelet. With both hands free, I prop the body up against the window and peer down to the courtyard, praying that the cart Chancellor Crunard promised is there.
I grasp the traitor by his collar and begin the difficult task of shoving his body through the window.
His Fair Assassin Series:
1. Grave Mercy
FTC Advisory: Houghton Mifflin provided me with a copy of Grave Mercy. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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