Title: Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1)
Author: Robin LaFevers
Rating: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Format Read: eBook, 576 pages
Publication Date: 3rd April 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Synopsis: “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?”
Yes, yes I’m aware that Grave Mercy came out like three years ago, that the trilogy is already complete and I’m only starting it now. So what? I do what I want! 😛
I saw a copy of this on Netgalley as a ‘Read Now’ and jumped immediately at the chance to start a series that I’ve been eyeing off for a long time. It ultimately did not disappoint, but it didn’t blow me away either. I’m finding that to be the case with a lot of the books I read these days…they’re good, I would continue them but they wouldn’t make it to my top 10 list for the year.
Ismae is a peasant girl whose been married off to a pig headed farmer by her awful father. Just as she believes she’s about to spend the rest of her life chained to an abusive husband, a priest comes in and smuggles her away to a convent that serves the great St. Mortain, the saint of Death. From the ripe age of thirteen, Ismae is trained to be an assassin by the nuns of the convent to do the bidding of their saint.
Assassin nuns are an odd concept, but I think it worked well. Hiding under the guise of being ‘conservative’ can go a long way when you’re really a deadly assassin in disguise. Ismae is trained in etiquette, poisons, history, the art of seduction and of course killing. As a piece of historical fiction, you can bet your ass that there’s a heap of political and court intrigue, just the way I like it. Ismae is sent to court as Gavriel Duval’s consort to find the man marked by St. Mortain for committing treason against the Duchess of Brittany. Having accidentally killed an informant of Duval’s, he demands that she consult with him before taking out the next marked person. The book sees Ismae struggle with her faith, the political backstabbing, and juggling what is right with what she’s been tasked to do by the convent. There are many layers to every character and you just don’t know who to trust in this game of political chess.
*rubs hands in glee*
I love court politics and the intricate dynamics of the relationships in court. Ismae’s task in rooting out the man marked by St. Mortain is not easy because everyone has their own motives for wanting the Duchess gone or married off, and each person wants a different piece of the pie. LaFevers does a wonderful job in creating well fleshed out characters with different agendas that kept me guessing along with Ismae.
The best part about the book are the characters. Ismae transforms slowly from a puppet of the convent to a strong assassin that began to question the methods of her saint. She was a wonderful protagonist to follow and I loved the way she developed slowly from being young and naive to strong and independent. And then there’s the secretive Duval. He’s fiercely protective of his siblings and just uber sexy without LaFevers having to even describe his looks. Everything about him screams I’M AWESOME AND BRAVE AND JUST YES ISMAE GET WITH HIM ALREADY.
Ahem. The romance developed slowly and realistically, and despite how awesome Duval is, the best part is that Ismae did not put her need to pursue a romance above her job. You two are just meant for each other. I ship thee. I ship thee lots.
I also really enjoyed the world building. The novel is set in Brittany and follows closely to its real history aside from the assassin stuff of course. But who knows, it may have happened! LaFevers has done extensive research on the history of the place, and that shines through in the novel with how rich and realistic the world is.
My only complaint about the book is how long it was. Being over 500 pages and following an assassin, I would have loved to see more action. I personally prefer fast paced books, so this is definitely a case of preference. Don’t let this sway you from picking it up because the political intrigue and the romance (!!!) definitely more than makes up for it. The novel also got me really interested in the history of Brittany during that period. I did manage to put my history nerd cap on when I finished the book.
If you’re a lover of historical fiction mixed with fantasy elements, then definitely check out this book. I will be continuing on with the series very soon I hope!
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Netgalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.