Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 539 (Hardcover)
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?
Part of the reason that I put this series off for so long was the length. I mean, this book is a brick and huge books, at times, can be intimidating. Sometimes, they're so long because they have too much information inside. But even scarier is the prospect that there's not enough information despite the insane length. GRAVE MERCY is genuinely perfect. My only complaint, hence the demoted half star, is that I struggled through the beginning. I found myself putting the book down constantly for the first fifty or so pages. I think it took me two or three days to actually get past that and then once I did, I flew through the remainder of the book. But, really, I found Ismae pre-training to be extremely boring and flat compared to Ismae post-training, though I understand why it was necessary to include the very beginning so that we can genuinely understand her.
Otherwise, this historical young adult novel about assassin nuns and political intrigue was everything I hoped it would be and more. (Who would have thought I would ever say that?)
Ismae is an amazingly strong heroine. She is determined and focused, especially when it comes to serving Mortain. Eager to prove herself, she takes any mission given to her and pursues her goals with abandon. Doing her true father's bidding is an honor, but she gets a perverse satisfaction with killing men destined for death after so many have wronged her throughout her entire life. For someone raised by nuns, the girl kicks some major ass. If I was ever on a deserted island, I would want Ismae by my side.
And then there is Gavriel Duval. Initially very closed off, he has close ties to the duchess and is often seen doing her bidding. He has a clever mind and is meant for battle. Like Ismae, he is very easy to respect, especially when it is apparent that he is one of the few men who value loyalty above all else and will always protect a woman's virtue. After a series of encounters with Ismae on her missions, the two of them are forced to be companions when she is assigned to his household as a spy at court. But, after rumors swirl that she is his mistress, the two of them are forced into a camaraderie that eventually turns into a friendship with hints of evolving into something more. This is one romance that is easy to get behind. I will be rooting for these two throughout the entire series.
This is perhaps one of the strongest sets of secondary characters I have ever come across. They all stood out with a different persona and, like any court should, they all had different kinds of secrets. Whether it was Beast, the duchess or her young sick sister Isabeau, Sybella the crazy assassin that nobody had heard about for days, Duval's estranged family and his servants, the Privy council, all the suitors, and so many more. One thing is for sure...they all had a hidden skill set or spent the entire book doing some absolutely insane politicking.
The historical aspect of GRAVE MERCY is very well done as well. It's apparent that LaFevers put in quite a bit of research into this novel. She was meticulous about every little detail ranging from how one speaks to clothing and the wide array of weapons that Ismae carries. All of these details, especially the awesome weapons, were really interesting to me. Poisons, knives, cross-bows, swords...you name it and there is a way that it is in this book.
My, what a tangled political intrigue web did LaFevers weave. One bad thing after another continuously happened and, while I felt bad for the characters, the reader in me was satisfied and flipping the pages at a lightning fast speed. I just wanted to know what was happening. I wanted to know who would die next, I wanted to know who was betraying Mortain, I wanted to know who the duchess would end up with and if they'd ever get rid of her evil suitors. I just wanted to know everything! My one complaint in regards to the political intrigue is that, despite Ismae's cleverness, I felt she was a little slow on the uptake in regards to figuring out what was going on with her abbey at home. I figured it out quite a bit before her and though her way of discovering it was interesting, I felt as if I was waiting for her to figure out this one obvious detail.
I cannot wait to continue onto the second novel in this series. I want to see what is next for Ismae and Duval, on top of the fact that I want to know more about the other assassins, specifically Sybella and Annith. I'm telling you guys, I just need to know. There are so many mysteries in this book that you will never be able to stop reading because of how bothered you are to know things. You can't not unravel these lies for yourselves. Don't be like me, be smart and pick this book up now instead of waiting like dumb me.