Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 3, 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult
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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?
Here is another genre I would really like to read more of. I have only read a few historical dramas/romances. Grave Mercy is a fascinating mixture of romance, political intrigue, and ethics. It is elegantly written in Ismae’s voice, exploring the assassin’s struggle with knowing right and wrong and wading through the complexities of court life. Indeed, Ismae’s conflicted character was very real to me, and her distrust of pretty much every other character in the book kept things interesting.
The first time I picked up Grave Mercy, I was in Barnes and Noble. I thought, “well the cover is cool, and who doesn’t want to read about assassin nuns?” So I read the first chapter. During which I’m sure I looked like this:
The first scene of Grave Mercy slaps you across the face. I immediately knew I wanted to read the rest of the book because I wanted revenge and rebirth for Ismae. I immediately wanted a better life for her; I wanted to see her grow into a capable woman who could make her own way in life.
So she ends up at the convent dedicated to Mortain, the god of Death, to become an assassin.
Sure, Ismae’s journey to girl power assassin-hood is spectacular and empowering. But then you meet the duchess. Duchess Anne, for all her rank and noble blood, has very little power. At the young age of twelve, she is of course looked upon as a child, and while people obey her orders because of her station, they do not keep from plotting against her and trying to take advantage of her. The Duchess is wise beyond her short years however, and should be taken seriously. But it seems as if there are enemies around every corner, even among friends and trusted advisors. France wants to invade, England won’t help, and the Duchess has been promised to multiple suitors, a few of whom would be nightmarish husbands. Even her magnificent brother, also Ismae’s love interest, Gavriel Duval, can’t do much to help as he is a bastard, and because of such, his station means next to nothing compared to the rest of the court. But he is solely dedicated to his sister’s safety, making him a shining beacon of hope in the Duchess’ plight.
Duval. Ismae. Their relationship is delightful. No insta-love. They really don’t even like each other for a lot of the book. Ismae is attracted to him (practically against her will) because he is the first man to treat her with kindness and respect, even though he isn’t exactly nice to her. She had been horribly abused by all the men in her life, so Duval is extremely attractive to her (though she doesn’t know it for a while and fights against it). When they finally start getting to know each other, they have exchanges that made me do this:
Duval’s close friends Beast and de Lornay created an entertaining cast of secondary characters. Beast is so named for his beastly appearance and fierceness in battle, but one of the first lines said about him is:
“Every maid Beast meets is a lady as far as he is concerned.” (pg 128), immediately endearing him to me. de Lornay is described as the most beautiful man Ismae had ever seen, and for some reason, I was strangely glad that she was attracted to Duval instead. It made their relationship seem less superficial. Beast and de Lornay are fiercely loyal to Duval, and by extension to the Duchess.
Through many deaths and betrayals, Ismae discovers that perhaps she is not doing right by blindly killing those marked by Mortain. She struggles with what path to take between revenge, justice, and ultimately, mercy. A really lovely, engaging read.
Similar books: Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas