Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1)
by R.L. LaFevers
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012
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?
When this book started showing up in my Goodreads feed, my first thought was, “Assassin nuns? SIGN. ME. UP.” And then Houghton Mifflin Harcourt gave all NetGalley users a three-day opportunity to download the book, and I seized my chance. And after seeing all these five-star reviews, I started to worry that I maybe wouldn’t like it quite as much and that perhaps it was over-hyped. But no. NO. This book was pure awesomeness from beginning to end. So awesome, in fact, that I just ordered a copy from Amazon because simply having an e-galley just wasn’t going to cut it.
Seventeen-year-old Ismae was rescued from a brutal arranged marriage three years earlier when she was taken to the convent of St. Mortain. Here she was trained to become a deadly assassin, serving the god of Death, and able to wield weapons and poisons with dangerous precision. When it’s believed that Anne of Brittany’s older brother, Gavriel Duval, is betraying his sister and country to the French, Ismae is sent to become a member of his household in order to keep an eye on him. Having grown up in a country town and then a convent, Ismae must learn to navigate the intrigues and deceptions of court, all the while trying not to fall in love with the very person she’s been sent to watch.
This book is set in a semi-fictional Brittany where people still serve the “old gods” and worship in the ancient ways. Ismae is a “daughter of Death” – literally, it turns out – and has some very unique skills that she gets to show off throughout the book. I found Ismae to be a really refreshing heroine with a wonderful voice; while physically strong and capable, she’s far from perfect, and has to navigate not only her past but her uncertainty regarding her present and future. I loved watching her grow as she started to really question what she wanted to do with her life and the fact that the convent might not always be right, or even the best path for her. She was faced with a lot of truly difficult decisions, and I was rooting for her as she navigated them all.
And Duval! What a swoon-worthy hero! It was so refreshing to see a truly GOOD guy who cared so deeply for his family and only wanted what was best for his sister. I so appreciated that the romance between him and Ismae didn’t just pop up instantaneously but was very slow-burning. I liked the fact that they became friends first, sharing an alliance that slowly grew into more. By the time the romance actually happened, it seemed like such a natural progression that I hardly blinked at it because it was just perfect for what was going on in the book at that time. I also loved how Duval was able to help Ismae let go of her past, how she naturally grew more trusting of him, and how he was able to help her realize that she wasn’t just a weapon of the convent. He was perfect for her, and she for him, and I just really loved the entire progression of their relationship.
This book was full of such twists and turns that I was constantly guessing and wondering what was going to happen next. I was literally unable to put it down until it was finished, because I just wanted to know how everything was going to be brought together for the finale of the book. Honestly my only thought upon finishing it was, “This book was SO AWESOME.” It was just exactly what I wanted it to be, with absolutely fantastic characters AND mythology, which anyone reading this knows I adore. The way the author weaved magic and mythology into the historical setting of Brittany was just perfect. I have no complaints about any of this book and am eagerly looking forward to the second installment, which focuses on Sybella, one of Ismae’s compatriots.