Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

By: Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Genre/Age: YA Historical Fantasy
Pages: 560
Source: ARC from publisher

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?

On a purely surface level, Grave Mercy hits sooooo many of my buttons (my good buttons, not my bad buttons. And not in a dirty way. Oh, you know what I mean.). Let’s review, shall we?

A map at the beginning of the book. Traveling primarily on horseback, with stops at inns and taverns along the way (serving wenches!).  A convent of assassin nuns. Swords. Poison. Bows and arrows. Castles. Secret tunnels in the walls of castles. Battles on horseback. Horns as communication in battle (I had SUCH a Lord of the Rings moment at one point *swoon*). ASSASSIN NUNS. Going undercover as a mistress. Court intrigue. Bracelet weapons. Poisoned pearls as decoration in hair. Chess. Did I mention the assassin nuns?

Are you swooning yet?

Happily, all of these superficially awesome things combine to make a deeply awesome story. In case you can’t tell (haha, yeah right), I loooooove historical fantasy, and it’s been a long while since I’ve read one that I enjoyed as much as Grave Mercy. The overall feel of it reminded me a bit of Graceling, which was so wonderful.

One of the things I love about historical fantasy is its ability to completely take a reader back in time and suck them into the world, and Robin LaFevers has done this flawlessly. I felt like I was there with Ismae, and definitely wished I could be there in real life. I swear, I was born in the wrong century.

And Ismae herself is BRILLIANT. She went through a lot (understatement!) before ending up at the convent, but she grows into this sassy, resourceful, funny, smart, totally KICKASS creature who can kill a man about a million different ways. Navigating the murky waters of the court of Brittany with her – never sure who should be trusted and who should be of victim of her poisoned hairdo – is SUCH fun. I loved every second of it.

My one teensy weensy thing (I don’t even want to call it a problem) was the romance. And don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike the romance. It was very sweet and lovely and I definitely enjoyed it, it just seemed a little tame and predictable.  For a book about assassin nuns, with two characters as fantastic as Ismae and Duval, I just wanted a little more spice! More suspense, more potential heartbreak, more sex, more intensity, more whatever. But you know, that’s okay. The book was so awesome otherwise, I can pretty much overlook this.

I really can’t recommend Grave Mercy highly enough. If you like historical fantasy, if you like adventure, if you like court intrigue, if you like action of the archery and swords variety, if you like the idea of a convent of female assassins, if you like getting completely sucked into a world... READ THIS BOOK. Or even if you don’t like any of those things, you should still read it. Because it is awesome. I’m SO excited for the rest of this series.

*On a random note, I’ve seen some speculation about how old Duval is (most people seem to think he’s around 30?), but even though it never specifically says, based on my calculations from information we’re given in the book, I think he’s about 24. And Ismae is 17. So there’s not that big of a gap between them. That is all. :)


  1. Another one going to the top of my MUST GET list.

  2. I've heard so many great things about this one already. And did you just say MAPS? YES PLEASE! I love books with maps. Mum has a few Agatha Christie books which have these cute little maps in them, explaining how the house looked like and where everything was, etc. I just love them.

    Great review Andie! x

    Books, Biscuits, and Tea

  3. I agree, this was a great book and it was unique in a world where paranormal YA has overtaken everything. I really liked all of the different plot elements and that there was magic in a historical setting.

    I have to agree that Duval threw me off, he seemed much older than our leading lady which lead me to not like him so much in the beginning of the book. I got over it by the end but it was a little bit of a challenge.

    Thanks for the great review!


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