Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin on April 3rd, 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
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?
Grave Mercy and indeed the His Fair Assassin trilogy is one of those super hyped up YA series that I sort of never really considered until an explosion of hype seemed to appear last year. That one’s on me. Whyyyy did I not pick this up earlier?? I absolutely adored this historical fiction with light touches of fantasy and amazing, amazing characters.
Grave Mercy, you’ve probably heard, is about assassin nuns. Our main character, Ismae, ends up at a convent for St. Mortain, the god of death. Mortain is supposedly her father, so she trains in all manner of weapons and poisons to do his bidding. She sees people marqued by Death and carries out those orders unquestionably. Now, that premise might make this book sound really dark and death-heavy, and that certainly was kind of what I had thought beforehand. But, then Duval shows up. Duval, Duval, my love, Duval. Duval is a guard for the Duchess, and he brings news of the court being in peril. Likely, Anne has a traitor in her midst, while the French are threatening war and the councilors are rushing to get her married off. Ismae ends up pretending to be Duval’s mistress to uncover the traitors at court and protect the Duchess – and keep Brittany safe.
Yeah. Hold the phone. How come nobody told me this was essentially a fake dating book? Albeit in a very different form. But the trope stands and is supported by how Duval and Ismae definitely don’t get along at first. The banter is absolutely fantastic. I was shipping it so freaking soon, and all throughout the book, there were just those tiny moments of swoon. Historical fiction is all about finding the romantic subtext, and although Ismae was pretty quick to realize her feelings (though she maybe didn’t want to admit them), the chemistry was palpable. This was just… omg. It’s my everything. Please give me more historical romance like this.
But let’s not get carried away – romance is but a subplot of this story. Ismae is such a badass assassin, and her voice just instantly absorbed me into this story. The plots at court were fun to unravel, and though I may have been a bit quicker in the discoveries than Ismae, it was an intriguing story that I think accurately captured how courtly politics worked back in the 1400s. Everyone has their own motives and with a young royal who is guided by a governess, a brother, a privy council, it’s interesting to see how all of that clashes.
Add in Ismae’s growing doubts about her convent and her purpose in life, and it’s also very much a character growth story. And I love how Duval is such a supporting character for that. He really challenges her beliefs and gets her to question some things that she’d accepted as resolute facts. They make each other so much better, omg please hold me.
The rest of the supporting characters were also so delightful and fleshed out. Annith stole my heart, so I can’t wait to see more of her later in the series. Beast and De Lornay, Duval’s trusty companions, also made me smile with their banter. (Although, that ending… AH.) Anne and her little sister were so adorable, although it was hard for me to constantly remember that Anne is only 10 or 11 years old. She comes across much older and wiser.
Where Grave Mercy loses a few points are a couple of things that happen at the end of the book. There’s a certain romantic scene that was just too vague. I’m pretty cool with sex in books, in fact I love it, and I get that in YA it can be hard to remain in the realm of acceptability while still providing enough clarity that you do in fact know what’s going on. Yeah, LaFevers didn’t really manage it here – at least not for me. The scene was just too vague and faded to black way too quickly, so I wasn’t really swooning at all. And other than that, the ending just felt extremely rushed. I didn’t really understand the time leaps and how certain things seemed to indicate everything was suddenly okay, even though the war was very much still in full swing. But I suppose that just means that I need to pick up the sequel ASAP.