Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1)
by Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2012
Format Read: Kindle E-Book
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?
I have this weird thing about books featuring assassins. Every time I find one, I do a little happy dance. Books about assassins are inevitably, if nothing else, interesting. Assassins are, by their trade, somewhat amoral, and therefore if they’re the hero of a book it leads to such interesting questions, like ‘what makes a hero’ or ‘what things are worth holding on to?’ Even better is that this book features, in Emily’s words, assassin nuns. I mean, actually, what could be better than that?
Ismae Rienne is the turnip farmer’s daughter. No one special. She’s reviled, even, for the scar stretching across her back, reminding everyone that she survived an attempt at abortion. When her father marries her off he’s glad to be rid of her, and the man she is bound to is none too happy when he sees her scar. Fortunately, fate has other things in mind, and she is spirited away to an island off the coast of Brittany, introduced to a very special convent. There she learns that the reason she survived as a fetus was because her real father is Death himself, St. Mortain, and the convent is a haven for His daughters, which also teaches them how to best serve Mortain (ie, killing things).
Fast forward three years, and Ismae is working as a novice, killing those who the convent says have need of it. But there is much more going on than the convent is aware of, and when Gavriel Duval comes Ismae is sent with him, to pose as his mistress and be the convent’s eyes and ears at court. Here she is embroiled in conspiracy after conspiracy, as eleven-year-old Anne of Brittany struggles to hold onto her land and independence in the face of France. Ismae finds to her dismay that everyone has their secrets and plots, and she cannot trust anyone. But, trust or no, she finds herself falling for Duval.
What blows my mind is that a lot of the events in the book actually happened. Not that there were assassin nuns ambling around in Brittany, but all of the events surrounding Anne of Brittany are true, which gives me great respect for the author. Anne of Brittany is, also, deserving of her own series of books–she was a French Queen TWICE. The main characters, Ismae and Duvall, are made up, and the convent is fictional, but many of the other characters are actual historical figures. So, besides being a great book, it’s also historically helpful.
Ismae is also a fascinating character. She is not at all amoral, but instead we see that she deeply believes that her father is Death, and that he guides her hand when killing. The mysticism there is also fantastic–marques that are physical indications of death, the ability to read souls, the misericorde–all make it believable. Despite her faith, Ismae’s main struggle is eternal, as she questions the judgment of the convent’s orders and her own heart. But the reader will also appreciate her straightforward manner and way of thinking, cutting to the heart of the matter and not playing around.
Her and Duvall’s love story is also perfectly adorable. They’re both absolutely dedicated individuals–Ismae to her faith, Duvall to his sister–honorable, and kind. Really, the only reason the two of them even had a slight dislike for each other in the beginning was because they have a mutual hatred of being told what to do. Long story short, they’re absolutely perfect for each other. I like, though, that they don’t just leap into each other’s arms. Ismae has never had a man in her life treat her with anything other than brutality, and I think I loved their slowly learning to trust each other more than the actual romance.
I’m not going to say this book is absolutely perfect, but it’s definitely a favorite. Fortunately for us all, there are two more books in the trilogy, from the viewpoints of Sybella and Annith, so we don’t have to let go of LaFevers world quite yet.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.