April 9, 2012

Review: Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Author: Robin LaFevers
Title: Grave Mercy
Series: His Fair Assassin (#1)
ISBN: 9780547628349
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 3rd 2012)
Disclaimer: Copy received for review purposes.

Buy your copy: Hardcover (Also avaiable in Kindle and Audible formats)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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?
GoodReads’ blurb

There’s just one complain I have about this book: I’m going to have to wait a whole year to read its sequel.

Yes, it’s that amazing and I could leave it at that – but then I’d not be reviewing it, and Grave Mercy deserves only the best. I’ll try my hand at doing it justice.

Check out the blurb above, carefully. If you squint and the light is right, it might seem a story you’ve read before: plenty of action and adventure, a heroine in a role unfitting for her time, and a fated romance. It could be almost familiar... If that was what Grave Mercy was at all.

The work of St. Mortain’s sisters is deadly, but it isn’t over the top: it’s silent, subtle, very much like Death itself. The ways they act are fitting to the setting, which could have been enough to turn me into a fan – let’s be honest: not everyone can write independent, intelligent, deadly females in the middle ages and still keep the unique feel of the historical moment.

Suffice it to say that after reading Grave Mercy I did some reading up on French history (it piqued my curiosity THAT much) and was... pleasantly surprised!

In any case, never mind how great the worldbuilding or how well chosen the language, the true strength of Grave Mercy was, once more, the characters.

Ismae couldn’t have been better developed. She’s broken from her childhood and we’re witness to every struggling step she takes forward once she leaves the walls of the convent behind. The world outside is not black and white as she’s been led to believe, and the way she gradually accepts –and learns to love- grayscale is touching and, more than anything else, believable.

I think the reason I liked Ismae so much, beyond how genuine she felt, is that she was smart. She was able to think for herself, in spite of her naiveté and her doubts, and not once were her wits addled. She didn’t swoon upon sight of a comely man, but she was not so stupidly stubborn that she’d refuse to admit to her mistakes, or to think beyond her own expectations. It was... refreshing. I think that’s the word.

Duval, on the other hand, was Ismae’s perfect counterpart. Honourable, dedicated, intelligent, tender. He had the brains and the experience at court to formulate his own ideas, his own plans and plots; at the same time, he was humble enough to accept and value Ismae’s opinions and to treat her like his equal – without really forgetting that she’s a woman. I loved that side of him.

The style is first person POV, present tense. The rhythm works very well to shape the setting and to reinforce the driving force – which is not but kicking action, as some people might be lead to believe. In 15th century Europe war was a nasty, gruesome business and the power games weren’t played face to face: it was all about the intrigues at court. And that’s exactly what Grave Mercy portrays. I’ve seen some reviews complaining about the book being slow, but I read it in two sittings and loved every second: there was unending depth and great detail to the layers upon layers of alliances, plots, betrayals, mistrust, despair... Personally, it took me a while to figure out who the “bad guy” was, and until the last pages I couldn’t be really sure about who to trust. The complexity of it all was superb.

The secondary cast is also well developed. It needs to be, because they’re the ones weaving all the political threads and they all have motives and reasons of their own.

Frankly put, and try as I might, I can’t come up with a single thing to criticize about Grave Mercy... So I will just tell you to add this to your TBR asap if you like mysteries and intrigue and devious plotting. Even if you don’t – as long as you enjoy solid, medieval flavored stories, you should check this one out.  

The sequel will pick up a support character from Grave Mercy, which means that we will probably see a lot less from Ismae and Anne and Duval, but I still can’t wait to read it.

Oh, yeah – well earned five stars, this book.


  1. I can't WAIT to read this book Ron. I feel the same as you, I get a phenomenal ARC & have to wait a year for its follow up!
    That JUST happened to me with a book I read. I was sooo bummed when I saw book 2 was out Summer of 2013! WHOA!
    Gr8 review as usual. Hope u had a nice weekend

    1. Hehehe! Well, at least this option's better than reading it and not liking it at all! That makes the wait bearable but... Yeah, not fun. :) Thanks for commenting!

  2. I'm so excited to see how much you love this book. I started reading it last week, but I've been terribly sick and haven't read much at all this past week. The start was really intriguing so I'm excited to get back to it.

    1. I hope you're better now! (taking into account how long it took to reply, I'd hope so... I'm so very, very sorry!!!)

      I'm sure you'll like the rest of the book if you thought the beginning was intriguing! It's not one of those books where the narration loses its touch of anything :)

  3. Omg, Ron... I'm reading this right now and LOVING it

    1. Isn't it amazing! I think it's going to be on my top ten this year!

  4. Oh, boy. I want to marry this review, take it home with me and make smart little reviews for the rest of my days. Seriously, Ron, I loved this book but had trouble expressing how I felt about it so I ended up focusing on small stuff that annoyed me instead of on huge parts that I loved. Gah.
    However, you've expressed my feelings perfectly for me. The language (I'm a linguist so I tend to be very sensitive about this point), the characters and the pacing were all just right.
    Stunning review, my friend. I should go and re-write mine. :)

    1. Hehehe... Another linguist here. I guess we've just found out why we get along so well! :P

      Seriously, though, I'm glad you liked the review! It was one of those cases were I had to make sure to live up to the quality of the book, and in those instances I'm never too comfy.

      PS. Your review was great too! Doesn't need rewritting at all... I loved it! :)