PUBLISHER: Andersen Press (UK) | Houghton Mifflin (US)
RELEASE DATE: 7th June 2012 (UK | 3rd April 2012 (US)
FORMAT: Paperback, 484 pages
GENRE: Paranormal, Young Adult
Young, beautiful and deadly. Trained as an assassin by the god of Death, Ismae is sent to the court of Brittany, where she finds herself under prepared – not only for the 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? (Goodreads)
GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers is a nice change to the current YA paranormal market, with assassins of death replacing the now-saturated vampire fiction. The book is full of twists and turns, becoming a historical, mystery, romance and paranormal book all in one.
Set in Brittany in the late 15th Century, the novel’s heroine is Ismae Rienne, a turnip farmer’s daughter who is mistreated by her father as she is believed to have been fathered by Death. Her mother tried to cast her out of the womb before she was born, meaning that Ismae bears a terrible scar down her back that she tries to keep hidden at all costs, as everyone who has seen it is repulsed.
After her father tries to sell her for marriage, Ismae ends up at the convent of St. Mortain, the saint of death. Here she is taught the variety of ways of killing a man, showing a particular gift for the study of poisons, as she is immune to their effects. She is given her targets from the convent’s Seeress, each of which bear the marque of St. Mortain, which allows Ismae to see how they should die.
“Poisons that grip the gut and force a man’s life to dribble from him into a slop pail. Poisons that stop the heart or squeeze the humors from the body. Bloodwort to congeal the blood so it can no longer move through the veins. We will show you subtle poisons that take days to fell a man, and those that kill within seconds.”
Her actions as an assassin land her wrapped up in official court business, after the Duchess of Brittany’s bastard brother, Gavriel Duval, interrupts one of her assassinations. Ismae is then made to accompany Duval to court, becoming entangled in the corruption surrounding the rule of Brittany. France wants to take the country’s independence, meaning the Duchess’s hand in marriage is coveted by several suitors who each promise an army to aid Brittany. Ismae needs to aid Duval in discovering the true motives behind each suitor, and to find a solution for both the Duchess and Brittany. Is it possible for her to aid Duval and serve her saint at the same time? And what if everything she believes in is questioned?
Ismae was a really interesting protagonist, as her scars meant that she was always holding herself back from interacting with others, always trying to keep herself hidden. When she becomes an assassin she finally has a purpose, and it was interesting to see the conflict between her love of St. Mortain and her developing affection for Duval. Her first person perspective demonstrates her emotions well, as the descriptions of her feelings weren’t excessive and so didn’t affect the action of the book, which can sometimes happen in YA fiction.
As a compliment to Ismae’s strong character, Duval is a good match, as he has the emotional conflict of being the previous Duke’s bastard and half-brother to the Duchess. This means he is more likely to understand Ismae’s scars, and his devotion to his sister is admirable, as he goes to great lengths to protect her. He starts to show affection for Ismae, and the strength of their partnership is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Overall I enjoyed reading GRAVE MERCY, although despite really enjoying the plot there were elements to the writing that ruined it for me. The author uses an abundance of short sentences in her descriptions, which kept halting my reading and ruined the flow of the paragraphs. It gave the description a blunt feel which was beginning to irritate me. I also didn’t like the constant use of the word ‘mayhap’, which is used throughout the book and the word just draws attention to itself in a sentence and I started to notice it being used all the time. Despite these issues with the writing I thought the book had a great plotline, and even though some of the mystery has an obvious cause it was still a great read.
This book was a good read, and I loved the plot as I felt it was something different to throw into the currently saturated YA market. The main characters were likable and the ending leaves a lot of possibilities for the sequel that are going to be interesting to explore. The writing style could be improved, as I was beginning to get frustrated at the overuse of short sentences, but overall it was a good read.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
1. Grave Mercy
2. Dark Triumph
3. Dark Hope
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