Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin, #1
Format: Paperback, owned
My rating: 5 / 5
Young, beautiful and deadly. Trained as an assassin by the god of Death, Ismae is sent to the court of Brittany, where she finds herself under prepared - not only for the 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?
-- As seen on Goodreads
I didn't get off to the best start with Grave Mercy. After reading the blurb I was expecting a historical romance with some assassins thrown in, and a familiar plot that would remind me too much if Poison Study. While I was reminded of Poison Study quite a few times, this book was a million times better than my expectations! Assassins or spies on their own are fascinating, but when you add assassin NUNS, things suddenly become a lot more entertaining.
At the beginning, Grave Mercy isn't the fastest moving book I have ever read. There is a lot of detail and build up in the first 150-180 pages, and in honesty I wasn't enjoying the book that much at this stage. Looking back on it now, all of this information was essential. There are so many layers built up, from the political and governmental, the convent and St. Mortain, assassins, the huge cast of characters and the intricate relationships between each one. Right now, it's amazing, but when I was reading I wanted the plot to hurry up already!
Once things began to move along, oh my lordy, it was absolutely amazing! Taking the time to establish the characters made all the tension and twists that much better, and I could feel the tension and pressure the characters were under. At the beginning of my paperback, we get a Dramatis Personae with 36 living characters listed. For the most part, each one was distinguishable with their own personality traits shining through. With that many characters, this is one hell of a feat!
I really liked all the characters, even the so called "villains". I could see why they thought and did the things they chose to do. Ismae Rienne is our main character and narrator. She was marked by an old Druidic god of death, Mortain, as one of his daughters who would essentially be his handmaiden in the realms if the living. As Christianity is spreading through Europe, the Breton people have taken to calling their old gods Saint to fit in with the new customs. Ismae is shunned by her local village for her scarring, and once her father tries to marry her off, she is rescued from an abusive situation and taken to the Convent of St. Mortain where she begins her training as an assassin to carry out Mortains prophecies of vengeance.
Ismae really grew on me over the course of the book. I could sympathise with her quite early on, but it took a while for me to really connect with her fully. Seeing where she came from, and who she grew into over the course of a single, albeit long, book was amazing. Gavriel Duval reminded me a lot of Valek from Poison Study, even though I kind of prefer Duval out if the two. Valek strengths and personality would be very subtle in comparison, where Duval has a more obvious and noticeable strength to his character. I loved both Ismae and Duval together. I could sense their connection, and I loved that it built up so realistically over the course of the book.
I loved both DeLornay and Beast, and I couldn't help admiring Duchess Anne. For a child of twelve to be forced to take the reins of a country under siege... gosh it was so well done! You could see the vulnerability along with the sheer strength of character when she knew she had to stand up for herself.
I can't help feeling that the blurb puts too much emphasis on the romance plot, and not enough emphasis on what actually takes place. I mean, if assassin nuns were mentioned, I think I would have been a heck of a lot more prepared for how awesome this book really is! Both the historical and political sides of the story are so intriguing, they overtake what is happening between Ismae and Duval, and the romance enhances rather than dominates the story.
Grave Mercy completely came out of the blue and surprised me with how emotionally invested in the characters I was. When I'm sniffling away and trying to fight tears at the tough times in a story, it's a pretty big clue I've found a book I love. And I absolutely loved this book! It might have been a shaky start, but it was so worth sticking with it to find out what actually happens. I highly recommend it, and I can't wait to start the next book in the series.