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?
I’ve read a lot of YA fiction lately and most of those books tend to rely on some very specific and very common tropes and themes to tell their story. But, every so often if you read enough YA fiction you will run across a book that breaks all of those usual rules of the genre and presents to you something new, fresh, and exciting.
Grave Mercy is exactly that kind of book. It features a strong female protagonist and a mysterious male counterpoint. It has the necessary political and social intrigue set in a culture where things are not exactly what they seem. All of which are pieces you see in most traditional YA fiction these days. The difference with Grave Mercy is that the author has not only the writing chops but apparently the foresight to know she needed certain pieces to make the book fit the genre but at the same time turn them all on their head so you don’t even know they are there unless you are looking.
Ismae is probably one of the most impressively written and developed female lead in a book that I’ve read in a very, very long time. She has strength, intelligence, and poise. She also has doubts, hesitations, and questions. The key is that Robin LaFevers does a magnificent job contrasting all of those things against themselves in ways that don’t feel heavy-handed or contrived. It all matters a great deal to who Ismae is as a person and as the protagonist in the book.
Most impressive about Grave Mercy is how the author manages to use the love interest theme without falling back on a forced love-triangle to do it. Ismae and Duval are reluctant partners in trying to maintain the rule of the new Duchess Anne. But, despite that reluctance they have a healthy respect for the skills they individually possess. That respect evolves into trust which evolves into warm thoughts which evolves into love by the end of the book. But, the best part is that the entire love story is hidden artfully behind the scenes of everything else going on and it only shines through here and there in an expertly woven tapestry.
I devoured Grave Mercy because the skill of Robin LaFever as a writer really took me by storm. Her characters, her plot development, her touch on the details that make the story come alive were on a level that I don’t often see in the books I read. The second book in the trilogy, Dark Triumph, is available now and focuses on a side character from Grave Mercy that really had me intrigued. My only trouble now is deciding if I should read the second book now, or wait until the final volume is available so I can read them back to back all at once.