Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen year old Ismae finds sanctuary at 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 be willing to take the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany, where she must pose as a mistress to the darkly mysterious Gavriel Duval, who has fallen under a cloud of suspicion. Once there, she finds herself woefully unprepared–not only for the deadly games of love and intrigue, 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?
Upon finishing this book, the critical reviewer in me had a bad moment. It raised its hackles and started stalking back through the book for something to comment on, something that annoyed me, something that stuck out. It took me a really long moment to realize that I had just simply enjoyed this book. Then the reviewer in me freaked out, because I hate throwing around 5 stars. But so the rating stays.
Why, you ask? Well that’s what I’m here to tell you.
This book started in the exact right place. You get an insight into what makes Ismae who she is–a poignant one–that doesn’t last for more than a few pages before you get to what you know you really want to read about, the killing nuns. However, those few pages are important, done well, and really allow the rest of the book to be accessible. The book is in the first person, and at first glance Ismae isn’t exactly a narrator like Sophie from the Hex Hall books. However, because you know where she’s coming from, her matter-of-fact way of speaking makes sense and connects the reader rather than repels them. And makes her dry sense of humor that much more awesome.
Speaking of characters, few books have such a solid cast of background characters such as this book. Even the characters that you didn’t see that often were well written and not stereotypes. From the younger duchess to Duval’s second-in-commands, I was in love with every single one of them–even the villains! (In fact, in places, especially the villains.)
I’ll admit, after reading Illuminate by Aimee Agresti Grave Mercy scared me because of its length. It’s 549 pages long. However, every single one of those pages was well used. Plenty of assassin stuff goes on, as well as plenty of intrigue and plotting. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized I actually couldn’t guess what was coming–and I certainly didn’t guess the ending! (Well, in part. It’s a romance; some things are a given.)
And the romance. Color me SO HAPPY. Sure, it’s the typical line where they start off disliking each other and then realize they love each other, but it worked. The reasons they were so untrusting of each other were REAL. The worries they had were REAL. The progression of their relationship was REAL. They came to trust each other before they came to love each other, which is how it should be. Hallelujah.
Lastly, Grave Mercy made me realize just how much modern day/modernish day plus a few years into the future where everything is a wreck books I’d be reading. I love historical fiction, and Grave Mercy made me miss it ridiculously. I didn’t realize it until Ismae legitimately used the word “poleaxed” in a sentence and I started giggling, because how many modern teens use that? All around, this book was a refreshing change from the other books I’d been reading that was filled with great characters, a fantastical historical world, great mythology and a real romance. If you like historical romance headlines by killer females (yes, pun intended, deal with it) then I certainly recommend Grave Mercy. Even if you don’t do much historical fiction, I still recommend it. The history and it’s figures were done so well I absolutely forgot it WAS historical fiction. It’s one of my favorites so far this year!
The second book in the His Fair Assassin series, Dark Triumph, is expected to be published in Spring 2013.