Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review - Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)
Hardcover, 1st Ed, 549 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Hougton Mifflin Harcour
NetGalley preview on my Nook

Premise: Ganked from 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?

My Review:

Ha!  Ha HA!!  What an exhilarating ride!!!

This book pulls together some of my most favorite things, weaving a new story with new characters and depths. As I read, I felt growing satisfaction… that THIS is what I had always hoped for and didn't even know it.

I loved so many things about this book. The concept is rich – Ismae (love the name!!) is rescued from abuse, smuggled across the country to a Convent fortress where she is trained in the arts of Killing. It’s like Cinderella + Graceling. What a fun combination!

I don’t don't much about history, so the setting might as well been a new fantasy world, for all I knew (or cared). The French-sounding names were exotic and the politics felt exactly like a complicated chess game, (the author's intention). There is gritty reality behind the impossible choices, which I absolutely loved. So often, especially when big, multiple kingdoms are involved, the answer is obvious & predictable, so “impossible” was refreshingly frustrating.

I thoroughly enjoyed the deities of Britain. Does anyone know if this is historical? There are 8 (9?) Gods transformed to “saints” to conform to the times. Mortain, the god of death, adds depth to the entire story. I was never certain how Ismae was literally conceived by him, but I love, LOVE the idea that she is a daughter of God. Absolutely. And that the Convent believes that only it – or specifically the Abbess – knows what Mortain wants, while the question is raised as to whether the Convent is above deception? Doubt is cast on the Convent, even while relationship with Mortain Himself is strengthened.

Ismae is a fun character. I slipped inside her skin so effortlessly, so that I still feel rather dangerous with various weapons strapped in hiding spots up my sleeves and skirts. (Ha!) I thought for sure I would learn all the in’s & out’s of her training at the Convent – like Paksennarian or The Song of the Lioness series. Instead, the story dives right into Ismae’s assignments. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was wondering how complicated this story would get if we leapt right through so much excitement so fast. She is intelligent & brave (rather than fearless). I love getting her thoughts behind each action, and I love her fast reflexes!!

Duval is also very fun. He has layers of reactions and motivations to figure out, while being at the same time, highly enticing. Suspicious and sexy at the same time!!  I was right there with Ismae as she experienced new love (great budding romance!) while remaining true to her beliefs and her deep conviction to serve the God of Death. When traitors abound, everyone is suspect!!

Many of the secondary characters had surprising depth.  Duval’s closest friends keep revealing greater depths, the council surrounding the Duchess holds surprises, the Convent and the handmaidens of Death have lots of secrets that they don’t give up even by the end of the story. 

The Duchess & her sister felt shallow to me, but if I was in either of their shoes, I could only hope to be as brave & decisive as they were. I'd probably run away.

Grave Mercy does not have a cliff-hanger ending, but it does leave loose ends – rather loud loose ends. I wondered how the author could sleep at night without resolving these. (Ha!)  Until I noted what book 2 in the series will be about… and entire book devoted to at least two of those loose ends, which gives me hope for the third, too. (Ack!! I hate not spoiler-talking!)

As I read, I kept thinking of similar books I love. The court scenes reminded me of Crown Duel, which I love! Sometimes I was reminded me of King Arthur or Robin Hood or somewhere in between ‘em (all the Britain stuff - either inner fighting or against France). I already mentioned Cinderella, Paksennarion and the Song of Lioness… not to mention Graceling. What if Katsa had a different motivation for doing her killing job? Hehehehe  And yet, Grave Mercy is unique, too. Some of the best of all of 'em rolled into something new.

Cover Commentary: Love it. I love the red dress, with the windblown wild look & the suspicious back glance… especially with the castle and storm clouds in the background. The crossbow makes the picture for me, although it seems a little large for the weapon she hid in her skirts. I suppose of they’d given her a wee little crossbow, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Lol.

My Rating: 5 - LOVE IT!!  I think this is one of my favorite books. I definitely want this book on my bookshelf collection to reread when the urge hits, ‘cause it definitely will!  It may be 500+ pages long, but I couldn’t put it down!!

The Awesome Author:

Robin LaFevers was raised on a steady diet of fairy tales, Bulfinch’s mythology, and 19th century poetry. It is not surprising she grew up to be a hopeless romantic. 
Though she has never trained as an assassin or joined a convent, she did attend Catholic school for three years, which instilled in her a deep fascination with sacred rituals and the concept of the Divine. She has been on a search for answers to life’s mysteries ever since. 
Many of those answers still elude her, she was lucky enough to find her one true love, and is living happily ever after with him in the foothills of southern California. 
In addition to writing about teen assassin nuns in medieval Brittany, she writes books for middle grade readers, including the Theodosia books and the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series. You can learn more about those books at www.rllafevers.com.
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