Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Posted April 21st, 2012 in book review / 14 comments

Grave Mercy

Book #1 of the His Fair Assassin Series

by Robin LaFevers

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children  (April 3, 2012)
Genre: Fantasy, Historical, YA
Pages: 550 (eBook) (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5 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

The Good
No Mercy…
Right from the beginning I was drawn into Ismae’s character and her dismal life. I could feel her despair from her early years of life, then her hope as she finds a place in the world. A place where no man can ever hurt her again, for she now hurts them first.

I can’t ever pass up a chance to read about female assassins. It’s like my Achilles’ heel. So far, not one assassin book has let me down. And Grave Mercy has now joined that list.

Death to the Rescue…
After years of abuse from her father and a marriage to a man just as worse, Ismae’s future looked pretty bleak. Luckily, she is rescued and brought to a convent. A convent that worships the god of Death. It’s here that she is trained in the art of assassination, for she has a natural gift from Death himself, and nothing can stop her from fulfilling her destiny. Except, maybe, Duval. A man like no other. A man she follows to the high court in the hopes of keeping the Duchess of Brittany safe from those who wish to hurt her. But the question is, is Duval there to help Ismae complete her mission, or is he another traitor to the crown?

Ismae the Assassin…
Ismae is one of the most interesting characters ever. She is both strong and vulnerable. She is loyal but also skeptical because when it comes to taking a man’s life, you want to be sure he is guilty. Your heart aches for her as we witness a fraction of what she went through most of her life. Then when she is taken in and taught to fight back, you can’t help but feel elated. She finally gets to have a meaning, a purpose in life that she loves. But when she is ordered to watch over the Duchess of Brittany, Ismae finds herself ill-prepared for the extent of court intrigue and betrayal she finds herself involved in. And the worst part is that she begins to have true feelings for the people around her. Watching her struggle to trust, kill, and manipulate made this a fascinating read. Her internal struggles to stay true to her god’s will but also stay true to her inner voice made me care for her even more.

A Shy Love…
Duval irritated me at first. He was so snippy and treated Ismae like she was worthless. But when he started warming up to her, and she to him, they were almost a perfect match. They had that nervousness towards each other that was just too dang adorable. Scared of accidentally touching or getting caught staring at one another. That’s what gave Grave Mercy that young adult feel. And once I got to know Duval, the more I saw the man that cares about his family and would do anything to protect them. But is that the true him or is that the front he puts on to convince Ismae of his loyalty?

And I Was Glued…
I loved the political intrigue in this book. Never once are you sure who is the bad guy(s). LaFevers does a great job of keeping the mystery unpredictable and the suspense gut-wrenching. Almost nothing goes the right way. People you care about die and the people you trust turn out to be liars. The killing was efficient and precise, just what you expect from an assassin. Nothing extremely gruesome though.

LaFevers really knows how to make your heart skip a beat with her numerous plot twists and turns. There was barely a dull moment. I was glued to this book the whole time, and with it being over 500 pages long, that’s a major feat. I can’t wait for the next book.

The Bad
The only thing that really bothered me was the ending. I hate unfinished endings. The whole book works up to some pretty important things that were suppose to happen but we only reach a couple resolutions and the rest is left unresolved.

The novel is written in present tense which can be disconcerting at first since it’s so rare, but I got use to it. Also, the lack of contractions made reading this book a little awkward, made it sound too formal.

The Snuggly
We get a little romance. Ismae and Duval are very cute together, though it takes them forever to finally admit their feelings. Their time together is pretty clean but the book covers some sexual topics. I loved how Ismae struggled with her feelings for Duval and her dedication to the god of Death.

Jeeze, I kind of wanted to wipe my brow when I turned the last page. I pretty much sweated with anxiety and fear this whole book. I never knew what to expect. It’s like LaFevers had no limits. She was just horrible to her characters, and that’s what makes her an amazing writer. Without that drama and suspense, reading fiction just wouldn’t be as fun. And, come on, this book is about a female assassin! Enough said. Highly recommended.

“I am looking for Jean-Paul. And you, sir”–I tap him lightly on the chest–“are not him.” I squish my lips into a pout and pray I do not look like a hooked fish. I am close enough to see the ruby he wears in his left ear.

Looking down at my bodice, the fool relaxes. Are men truly such idiots that they cannot resist two orbs of flesh? Martel glances at the door behind us and licks his lips. “Perhaps, after I conduct my business, I can come to demoiselle’s aid,” he suggests. His eyes stray again to my bodice, and the dagger at my ankle calls to my clenched hand. Not yet, I tell myself. Not yet.

“That is a very kind offer.” I let my eyes wonder up and down his body, as if assessing his charms. In truth, I am searching for the marque. His forehead is clear, as are his lips. Uncertainty raises its head. I sigh as if smitten. “But Jean-Paul,” I say, then sigh again. I tilt my head, considering. “Well, as you say, he is not here. Mayhap Monsieur will do. “As if I am a mare in heat, I think in disgust, and any stallion will suffice.

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14 Responses to “Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers”

  1. Ivana

    I wasn’t completely happy with this book…the premise is fantastic, and nuns training novices to be assassins? How cool is that? I agree about the ending. Rushed and unresolved.
    Have you read the synopsis for the second book? Maybe some of this unresolved questions will be answered there 🙂

  2. Nerd Girls

    Man, I absolutely loved this book. I almost picked it up in the store just so I could own my own copy of it.

    I have a feeling that this series will be kinda like Graceling, where it follows different characters in each book.

    Great review!

    Jenny at Books to the Sky

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  4. Sarah (saz101)

    OK, firstly: can I tell you how much I love for your highlighting contractions? It’s a MAJOR peeve of mine when books are told in first person, and the the narrator–a HUMAN BEING–talks like a robot… I mean, I get it, if it’s historical and what not, but BLURGH.

    ANYWAY. Second pet peeve: unfinished endings. I’m cool with loose ends that’ll be handled in the future, but when I read a book, I want beginning, middle and END. It irriates me…. basically, I don’t care, as long as I get to finish a book with a feeling of satisfaction, if you know what I mean???


    Uh… this sounds AMAZING.
    I can’t explain how excited I am for this. I’ve seen it compared to two of my all time favorites: Poison Study and Graceling, and then your review?? LAKDHAG!

    Seriously, I grew up on proper fantasy, and cloaks and daggers and thieves and swords and this just… SO excited.

    • Jennifer L. Bielman

      OMG, you have know idea how much the lack of contractions makes me crazy. And yes, it makes people sounds like robots. Come on, everyone uses contractions, people is books should too.

      So I wait for the whole book for things to fall into place and get resolved or at least get mentioned, and it’s like, nope, just THE END. Grrrr.

      From what I know about my Silly Sarah, I think you are going to LOVE this book. I think it’s right up your alley.

  5. Ryan Snyder

    haha. i love the part of the book you quoted. i thought it was charming how inept she was at flirting and such. it gave her more depth as a character. i loved this book. i also hated the drop- off at the end, but i thought what he said was kind of sweet. She wasn’t a BA assassin, but she was like a little kid all excited to go kill people. (that made me laugh when she got happy. i was like….bloodthirsty. i like that. muahaha)

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