I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Published: 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Buy on Amazon
View on Goodreads
Grave Mercy is a young adult historical fantasy novel by Robin LaFevers. The protagonist, Ismae, is an antiheroine. She grew up in an abusive household and is in the process of being married off to someone who is even worse, but then an opportunity for a different kind of life presents itself to her. She joints the convent of Mortain, the patron saint of death, and is trained to carry out her Saint’s will through the art of assassination. Once her training is complete, Ismae is sent on an assignment that thrusts her into the center of Brittany’s political turmoil. Ismae has much to learn about the scheming and backstabbing of court, and to further complicate matters, she finds herself developing feelings towards Duval, the Duchess’ attractive bastard brother.
The fantasy elements of Grave Mercy are subtle enough so as not to dilute the historical events on which the story is based. Mortain is framed as an older god who has been Christianized into a saint, and as his daughter, Ismae has powers that help her understand death, both impending and recent. One of the central conflicts of the story is Ismae’s realization as she comes of age that the women of the convent are human and that even though she and they are both dedicated to Mortain, they aren’t infallible and there are some things that they don’t understand. Even though it has a spiritual element to it, it reminds me of the teenage realization that parents don’t know everything and are trying the best that they can.
Probably my favorite aspect of Grave Mercy is that although antiheroes are becoming more common in fantasy literature, it’s not often that I see a good anti-heroine. Ismae is incredible. Instead of being broken by her troubled childhood, she learns the skills necessary to never be in that kind of position again. As the cover of the book states, why be the sheep when you can be the wolf? Garrotes, poisons, and daggers enable Ismae to wield power that she had never dreamed of, and she doesn’t shy away from exercising her powers of death.
There were moments when I felt that the romance with Duval seemed a bit over-the-top (minor spoiler, but there’s a scene where she cures him of poison by sleeping with him, which seems like a bit of a stretch, because having god-of-death powers in no way implies having a magical vagina). Even so, I enjoyed the cheesiness of the romance subplot, and I was grateful that there was only one love interest instead of an awkward love triangle.
Overall, Grave Mercy was a fun read, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series.