Book: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date Published: April 3rd, 2012
Date Started: December 28th, 2014
Date Finished: January 4th, 2015
Other Books Reviewed: Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart
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 I first discovered Grave Mercy, I had thought it was going to be purely a fantasy book. But to my surprise and amusement, this book is more of a historical fiction with a touch of fantasy. Before I realized that it was a historical fiction, I was looking for some intense action with tons of fantasy elements.
This book is about a girl named Ismae who has been sired by death itself. Her mother was given a potion to try and get rid of Ismae before she was born. The potion didn’t work, and Ismae was left with this giant scar running down her side. Her father was cruel to her for the majority of her life and forced her into an arranged marriage. Ismael escapes this marriage thanks to a priest and she is sent to a Convent that serves Mortain, the god of death. She is trained as an assassin and sent off to play the part of a mistress to a man who is trying to secure his country for the Duchess. While there, she begins to question everything around her including what she really wants for herself and her heart.
The reason that I believed that there were a lot of fantasy elements was the fact that its a story about an assassin who serves the god of death. There are some elements like the fact that Ismae can see marques of death on those whom she is supposed to kill and the influence of seers, witches, etc. Most of the assassin books that I have read lately have had a much stronger fantasy element. But Grave Mercy is more Historical fiction than anything. While I was reading this book, I kept thinking there was so much talk about politics, when do we get to the killing! I knew that this book was based on real historical events, but I tend to take that statement lately. I have a degree in History, and so anything with a historical element means that I tend to be a bit picky and will often just brush off the historical element. But upon realization that this is more historical fiction than fantasy, I couldn’t ignore it. It changed the way that I read this book, and made it so much more interesting. I studied European history with my degree, so I’m familiar with the real story of the characters in this book. There was an actual Duchess of Brittany who was left to try and fend off the French from invading her borders. I also know that Brittany has a rich culture of Celtic influences, and I understood where the polytheistic influence came from along with the push of the spread of Christianity.
The problem that I had with this story in terms of the characters was the fact that the Duchess was only 13. I know that a lot royalty was forced into early marriages and such, but the Anne in the book did not come off as only 13 years old. She act as though she was 18 or 19 years old, the same age as the two main characters. It wasn’t revealed that she was only 13 until the end. I feel like if I had known this, it would have changed the way that I viewed the character. She was a bit too mature for it to be believable. I know that a lot of people forced into those situations are forced to become mature beyond their years, but it just didn’t come off very well in the writing.
Another issue I had was with Ismae and the convent. Ismae is at the convent for 3 years, but the story completely skips over that. I know that much of it isn’t necessary, but I would have liked to have watched her develop as a character in that time frame. We start off with this Ismae who has been shoved around by men her whole life, and then we come straight away to this Ismae who is stronger and is a trained killer. There is so much more transformation from that Ismae to the final Ismae on the last page. I would have just liked to see more transformation from the 1st to the 2nd. Also, because we see little of Ismae interacting with the convent, I found their influence to be hard to believe and thus not as strong. Ismae seems to be so obedient to her convent, but their hold seems to be so frail. If there was more communication between the two, I would have seen how hard some of her decisions had become. I was also unsure about Mortain. He is the god of death, but it appears that Mortain’s wishes were solely tied to Brittany. There was talk about how to serve Brittany in order to serve Mortain. I think I would have just liked more clarification in this aspect.
If you’re like me and love history, this would be a great book for you. There is a love story, but its not the main aspect of the book, as the synopsis would suggest. Theres great action, honor, vengeance, spies, politics, etc. Its a great historical fiction with that assassin flair to it. Also, look for the sequels to this series. Every book in the series is out, with each book dealing with a different assassin.