Grave Mercy is a Young Adult historical fantasy, written by Robin LaFevers. It is recommended for fans for Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and I give it nine stars!
Summary (Goodreads): 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?
Non spoiler review: I really did love this book. It was truly a page turner, and everything about it had me intrigued, between the setting and the characters and the plot-lines. It is set in mid-evil Brittnay, which is an interesting time period as it is not to mention the place. We learn a lot about the duchy and history of the area, as well as different beliefs and how the people hid them from the church. The characters are dark, but you want to know more about each of them. There are many mysteries and betrayals, all that push you to keep reading. Although, I must warn you all, as with many historical books there are some slow parts. It is the kind of book that makes you feel grateful to live in a place and a time where feminism is so common. Recommended to feminists and history buffs, and anyone who likes dark tales of secrets and betrayal.
Spoiler review: I spoke above about feminism, but I think it needs to be referred to in more depth. In this novel a fourteen year old Isame is nearly raped by her husband, and her only options are another arranged marriage with a stranger or to join a convent of death. It really made me think about how many woman out there who did not have as many opportunities as we do, and some who still don’t. I am very grateful for this realization, and thought it was an important point to make when discussing this book.
Ismae is a dark character. She has been through a lot in her life, and she suffered from feeling unwanted and worthless. Of course, when the opportunity arose for her to become something, she’d become devoted to in in an instant. I was a little surprised to see how quickly she was devoted, but it was genuine.
I loved to watch Isame fall in love with Duval, because it wasn’t sudden yet it didn’t take too long. She had loved him for a while before she realized it, or at least liked him. Her love didn’t make her softer either; she was still figuring out her own path, and was still sure in her faith for Mortain. The only real change in her life was that she didn’t trust the convent. It was time she left them anyways, you can’t trust any group of people who want you to kill people, although I have to admit the concept is very cool and I loved reading about her life at the convent.
Other interesting characters were Sybella and Annith, and I’m so excited to read the other books about them. Sybella is much darker than Ismae and Annith is much sweeter, but both girls have to have something twisted about them to become assassins, or “handmaidens of death”.
I was very interested in everyone’s devotion to the duchess, or lack of. It all came from different points. The duchess herself was raised to believe she had to live for her duty, and that’s what all of her trusted advisers, who betrayed her, thought as well. Her marriage is about alliances to them, and not about her personal will. The people who actually care about the twelve year old girl being happy is her family, namely her brother Duval. Over the course of the book certain people forget their interests at hand, and confuse one with the other. Ismae goes into the palace in order to protect the duchy of Brittnay, and she ends up caring for the young girl’s life. She confronts one of the many people who betrayed Anne, who simply reminds her that he’s not trading her life, it’s only a marriage. This shows that he does not care about Anne at all, and that Ismae is confusing her country with her the girl’s life. They are not the same thing.
I want to end this by discussing Gavriel Duval. He had me at hello! Even in the very beginning I knew there was something about him that made me thirsty for more, and very soon I got caught in his gripping character. Trying to figure him out was one of the most enjoyable things about the novel.