Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Series #1)

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Series #1)

by Robin LaFevers

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Overview

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?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547628349
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/03/2012
Series: His Fair Assassin Series , #1
Pages: 560
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.90(d)
Lexile: 850L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Robin LaFevers , author of the New York Times best-selling His Fair Assassin books, was raised on fairy tales, Bulfinch’s mythology, and nineteenth-century poetry. It is not surprising that she grew up to be a hopeless romantic. She was lucky enough to find her one true love, and is living happily ever after with him in California. Visit her online at robinlafevers.com and on Twitter @RLLaFevers. 

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Brittany 1485

I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I have been sired by the god of death himself.

I am told my father flew into a rage and raised his hand to my mother even as she lay weak and bleeding on the birthing bed. Until the herbwitch pointed out to him that if my mother had lain with the god of death, surely He would not stand idly by while my father beat her.

I risk a glance up at my husband-to-be, Guillo, and wonder if my father has told him of my lineage. I am guessing not, for who would pay three silver coins for what I am? Besides, Guillo looks far too placid to know of my true nature. If my father has tricked him, it will not bode well for our union. That we are being married in Guillo’s cottage rather than a church further adds to my unease.

I feel my father’s heavy gaze upon me and look up. The triumph in his eyes frightens me, for if he has triumphed, then I have surely lost in some way I do not yet understand. Even so, I smile, wanting to convince him I am happy—for there is nothing that upsets him more than my happiness.

But while I can easily lie to my father, it is harder to lie to myself. I am afraid, sorely afraid of this man to whom I will now belong. I look down at his big, wide hands. Just like my father, he has dirt caked under his fingernails and stains in the creases of his skin. Will the semblance end there? Or will he, too, wield those hands like a cudgel?

It is a new beginning, I remind myself, and in spite of all my trepidations, I cannot extinguish a tiny spark of hope. Guillo wants me enough to pay three silver coins. Surely where there is want, there is room for kindness? It is the one thing that keeps my knees from knocking and my hands from trembling. That and the priest who has come to officiate, for while he is naught but a hedge priest, the furtive glance he sends me over his prayer book causes me to believe he knows who and what I am.

As he mutters the ceremony’s final words, I stare at the rough hempen prayer cord with the nine wooden beads that proclaim him a follower of the old ways. Even when he ties the cord around our hands and lays the blessings of God and the nine old saints upon our union, I keep my gaze downcast, afraid to see the smugness in my father’s eyes or what my husband’s face might reveal.

When the priest is done, he pads away on dirty feet, his rough leather sandals flapping noisily. He does not even pause long enough to raise a tankard to our union. Nor does my father. Before the dust from my father’s departing cart has settled, my new husband swats my rump and grunts toward the upstairs loft.

I clench my fists to hide their trembling and cross to the rickety stairs. While Guillo fortifies himself with one last tankard of ale, I climb up to the loft and to the bed I will now share with him. I sorely miss my mother, for even though she was afraid of me, surely she would have given me a woman’s counsel on my wedding night. But both she and my sister fled long ago, one back into the arms of death, and the other into the arms of a passing tinker.

I know, of course, what goes on between a man and a woman. Our cottage is small and my father loud. There was many a night when urgent movement accompanied by groans filled our dark cottage. The next day my father always looked slightly less bad tempered, and my mother more so. I try to convince myself that no matter how distasteful the marriage bed is, surely it cannot be any worse than my father’s raw temper and meaty fists.

The loft is a close, musty place that smells as if the rough shutters on the far wall have never been opened. A timber-and-rope bed frame holds a mattress of straw. Other than that, there are only a few pegs to hang clothes on and a plain chest at the foot of the bed.

I sit on the edge of the chest and wait. It does not take long. A heavy creak from the stairs warns me that Guillo is on his way. My mouth turns dry and my stomach sour. Not wanting to give him the advantage of height, I stand.

When he reaches the room, I finally force myself to look at his face. His piggish eyes gorge themselves on my body, going from the top of my head down to my ankles, then back up to my breasts. My father’s insistence on lacing my gown so tight has worked, as Guillo can look at little else. He gestures with his tankard toward my bodice, slopping ale over the sides so that it dribbles to the floor. "Remove it." Desire thickens his voice.

I stare at the wall behind him, my fingers trembling as I raise them to my laces. But not fast enough. Never fast enough. He takes three giant strides toward me and strikes me hard across the cheek. "Now!" he roars as my head snaps back.

Bile rises in my throat and I fear I will be sick. So this is how it will be between us. This is why he was willing to pay three silver coins.

My laces are finally undone, and I remove my bodice so that I stand before him in my skirt and shift. The stale air, which only moments before was too warm, is now cold as it presses against my skin.

"Your skirt," he barks, breathing heavily.

I untie the strings and step out of my skirt. As I turn to lay it on the nearby bench, Guillo reaches for me. He is surprisingly quick for one so large and stupid, but I am quicker. I have had long years of practice escaping my father’s rages.

I jerk away, spinning out of his reach, infuriating him. In truth, I give no thought to where I will run, wishing only to hold off the inevitable a little longer.

There is a loud crash as his half-empty tankard hits the wall behind me, sending a shower of ale into the room. He snarls and lunges, but something inside me will not—cannot—make this easy for him. I leap out of his reach.

But not far enough. I feel a tug, then hear a rip of cloth as he tears my thin, worn chemise.

Silence fills the loft—a silence so thick with shock that even his coarse breathing has stopped. I feel his eyes rake down my back, take in the ugly red welts and scars the poison left behind. I look over my shoulder to see his face has gone white as new cheese, his eyes wide. When our glances meet, he knows—knows—that he has been duped. He bellows then, a long, deep note of rage that holds equal parts fury and fear.

Then his rough hand cracks against my skull and sends me to my knees. The pain of hope dying is worse than his fists and boots.

When Guillo’s rage is spent, he reaches down and grabs me by the hair. "I will go for a real priest this time. He will burn you or drown you. Maybe both." He drags me down the steps, my knees bumping painfully against each one. He continues dragging me through the kitchen, then shoves me into a small root cellar, slams the door, and locks it.

Bruised and possibly broken, I lie on the floor with my battered cheek pressed into the cool dirt. Unable to stop myself, I smile.

I have avoided the fate my father had planned for me. Surely it is I who have won, not he.

 

The sound of the bolt lifting jerks me awake. I shove myself to a sitting position and clutch the tattered remains of my chemise around me. When the door opens, I am stunned to see the hedge priest, the same small rabbit of a man who’d blessed our marriage only hours before. Guillo is not with him, and any moment that does not contain my father or Guillo is a happy one by my reckoning.

The priest looks over his shoulder, then motions for me to follow.

I rise to my feet, and the root cellar spins dizzily. I put a hand to the wall and wait for the feeling to pass. The priest motions again, more urgently. "We’ve not much time before he returns."

His words clear my head as nothing else can. If he is acting without Guillo’s knowledge, then he is most assuredly helping me. "I’m coming." I push away from the wall, step carefully over a sack of onions, and follow the hedge priest into the kitchen. It is dark; the only light comes from the banked embers in the hearth. I should wonder how the priest found me, why he is helping me, but I do not care. All I can think is that he is not Guillo and not my father. The rest does not matter.

He leads me to the back door, and in a day full of surprises, I find one more as I recognize the old herbwitch from our village hovering nearby. If I did not need to concentrate so hard on putting one foot in front of the other, I would ask her what she is doing here, but it is all I can do to stay upright and keep from falling on my face in the dirt.

As I step into the night, a sigh of relief escapes me. It is dark out, and darkness has always been my friend. A cart waits nearby. Touching me as little as possible, the hedge priest helps me into the back of it before hurrying around to the driver’s bench and climbing in. The priest glances over his shoulder at me, then averts his eyes as if he’s been burned. "There’s a blanket back there," he mutters as he steers the nag out onto the cobbled lane. "Cover yourself."

The unyielding wood of the cart presses painfully into my bruised bones, and the meager blanket scratches and reeks of donkey. Even so, I wish they’d brought a second one for padding. "Where are you taking me?"

"To the boat."

A boat means water, and crossing water means I will be far from the reach of my father and Guillo and the Church. "And where is this boat taking me?" I ask, but the priest says nothing. Exhaustion overwhelms me. I do not have the strength; plucking answers from him is like pulling meager berries from a thorny bush. I lie down in the cart and give myself over to the horse’s jolting gait.

 

And so my journey across Brittany begins. I am smuggled like some forbidden cargo, hidden among turnips or in hay in the back of carts, awakened by furtive voices and fumbling hands as I am passed from hedge priest to herbwife, a hidden chain of those who live in accordance with the old saints and are determined to keep me from the Church. The hedge priests, with their awkward movements and musty, stale robes, are kind enough, but their fingers are unschooled in tenderness or compassion. It is the herbwitches I like most;, their chapped, raw hands are gentle as lamb’s wool, and the sharp, pungent smell of a hundred different herbs clings to them like a fragrant shadow. Often as not, they give me a tincture of poppy for my injuries, while the priests merely give me their sympathy, and some begrudgingly at that.

When I awake on what I reckon to be the fifth night of my journey, I smell the salty tang of the sea and remember the promise of a boat. I struggle to sit up, pleased to find my bruises pain me less and my ribs do not burn. We are passing through a small fishing village. I pull the blanket close against the chill and wonder what will happen next.

At the very edge of the village sits a stone church. It is to this that the latest hedge priest steers our cart and I am relieved to see the door bears the sacred anchor of Saint Mer, one of the old saints. The priest reins his horse to a stop. "Get out."

I cannot tell if it is fatigue or disdain I hear in his voice, but either way, my journey is almost done, so I ignore it and clamber out of the cart, keeping the blanket clutched tight around me lest I offend his modesty.

Once he secures the horse, he leads me toward the beach, where a lone boat waits. The inky black ocean spreads out as far and wide as my eye can see, making the vessel seem very small.

An old sailor sits hunched in the prow. A shell bleached white as bone hangs from a cord at his neck, marking him as a worshiper of Saint Mer. I wonder what he thinks of being woken in the middle of the night and made to row strangers out into the dark sea.

The sailor’s faded blue eyes skim over me. He nods. "Climb in. We en’t got all night." He thrusts an oar at me, and I grasp it to steady myself as I get into the boat.

The small vessel dips and rocks and for a moment I am afraid it will tip me into the icy water. But it rights itself and then the priest steps in, causing the hull to sink even lower.

The old sailor grunts, then returns the oar to its pin and begins rowing.

We reach the small island just as dawn pinkens the eastern horizon. It looks barren in the early, spare light. As we draw closer, I see a standing stone next to a church and realize we’ve come to one of the old places of worship.

Gravel crunches under the hull of the boat as the old sailor rows right up onto the beach. He jerks his head toward the stone fortress. "Get out then. The abbess of St. Mortain be expectin’ ye."

Saint Mortain? The patron saint of death. A tremor of unease washes through me. I look at the priest, who averts his eyes, as if looking at me is too great a mortal temptation.

Clutching the blanket close around me, I climb awkwardly from the boat and step into the shallows. Torn between gratitude and annoyance, I curtsy slightly, careful to let the blanket slip from my shoulder for the merest of seconds.

I t is enough. Satisfied at the priest’s gasp and the old sailor’s cluck of his tongue, I turn and slog through the cold water to the beach. In truth, I have never flashed so much as an ankle before, but I am sorely vexed at being treated like a temptress when all I feel is bruised and broken.

When I reach the patchy grass that grows between the rocks, I look back toward the boat, but it has already put out to sea. I turn and begin making my way to the convent, eager to see what those who worship Death want of me.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

(star) "With characters that will inspire the imagination, a plot that nods to history while defying accuracy, and a love story that promises more in the second book, this is sure to attract feminist readers and romantics alike."—Booklist starred review

(star) "Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion in 15th-century Brittany. ...LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy. A page-turner—with grace."—Kirkus, starred review (star) "Rich in historical detail, well-realized characters, political machinations, and enticingly prickly scenes between Ismae and Duval, LaFevers's complex tale incorporates magic both sparingly and subtly. This powerful first volume of the His Fair Assassin series should attract many readers."—Publishers Weekly, starred review (star) "The book is well written and filled with fascinating, complex characters who function realistically in this invented medieval world."—School Library Journal, starred review "Readers will immediately warm to Ismae's determination to think for herself despite the powerfl influences of multiple others."—Bulletin "LaFevers is an artful storyteller who has created a strong lead character....The tale is one of scheming nobles, political subterfuge, murder, and romance—all of the best aspects of a good read. And like any good mystery, the plot is unpredictable."—VOYA

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Grave Mercy (Book I): His Fair Assassin, Book I 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 114 reviews.
Bonnie_W More than 1 year ago
While GRAVE MERCY is categorized as YA, it has one foot in the adult fiction category as well. Novels like this one show how rich and diverse the genre can be. I love a good fantasy, especially one as layered and textured as this. It twines lush, slow-building romance (No insta-love here, rejoice!) with political intrigue, deft mystery, and the lore of Death's handmaiden. Plus, there are female assassins. Win! The story unfurls at its own pace and never feels rushed. Rather, it's one I want to savor. If you're looking at the fact that GRAVE MERCY is Book I in the HIS FAIR ASSASSIN series, fear no more: This is not one of those stories. Ismae's tale is self-contained, as are the following novels, though I expect that familiar faces will come back in passing. The second book, DARK TRIUMPH, will center around Sybella, whom we meet briefly in GRAVE MERCY. My guess is that the third (and likely final) book in the series, DARK HOPE, will revolve around Annith, a third girl from the convent of Saint Mortain. Many of the characters in GRAVE MERCY are centered around real people that lived, making the novel historical fantasy, which can be richer than traditional fantasy when factoring in all of the original research. Robin LaFevers posted an in-depth author's note on her website rather than in her novel so that readers wouldn't be pulled out of the story. Ismae, the novel's main character, is wholly original, as is Lord Gavriel Duval, the man with whom Ismae leaves the covent on a mission to discover who has been betraying Brittany to the French. The characters were both detailed and well-fleshed out. As the novel progressed, we learned more about each one and watched their wariness of one another move tentatively to trust and onward to something deeper. Ismae is such a complex character. Her story begins with betrayal: Her father sells her into an abusive marriage, and only after her escape does she discover the convent of Saint Mortain, a place where she can learn how to be her father Death's handmaiden, a female assassin. Once she has spent three years training at the convent, Ismae is giving a position at Lord Duval's side to be the eyes and ears of Mortain, dealing justice to anyone found to be an enemy of Brittany. She is told to trust no one, and is properly careful around Duval. And Duval! This man is one of my favorite heroes to sweep his way into the fantasy genre in quite some time. I loved the way his character was built up. LaFevers pulls back layer after layer, revealing him like an onion until you can't help but love him and his unwavering loyalty. He shares a strong connection with Ismae; their relationship is never forced or rushed the way it is in so many teen novels. Both characters have reasons to guard their hearts, so when they let that guard down, the result is beautiful and deep. GRAVE MERCY has been on my "to read" list since the publishing deal went through in 2010. I coveted it long before the awesome cover reveal that made everyone sit up and take notice. Sometimes when this happens, my expectations are too high and the book can never meet the lofty bar I've set for it. And that's always my fault, never the book's. With GRAVE MERCY, however, I never felt let-down. I was captivated from the moment I picked the book up and I couldn't put it down until I had turned the last page.
BurgandyIce More than 1 year ago
Ha! Ha HA!! What an exhilarating ride!!! This book pulls together some of my most favorite things, weaving a new story with new characters and depths. As I read, I felt growing satisfaction… that THIS is what I had always hoped for and didn't even know it. I loved so many things about this book. The concept is rich – Ismae (love the name!!) is rescued from abuse, smuggled across the country to a Convent fortress where she is trained in the arts of Killing. It’s like Cinderella + Graceling. What a fun combination! I don’t don't much about history, so the setting might as well been a new fantasy world, for all I knew (or cared). The French-sounding names were exotic and the politics felt exactly like a complicated chess game, (the author's intention). There is gritty reality behind the impossible choices, which I absolutely loved. So often, especially when big, multiple kingdoms are involved, the answer is obvious & predictable, so “impossible” was refreshingly frustrating. I thoroughly enjoyed the deities of Britain. Does anyone know if this is historical? There are 8 (9?) Gods transformed to “saints” to conform to the times. Mortain, the god of death, adds depth to the entire story. I was never certain how Ismae was literally conceived by him, but I love, LOVE the idea that she is a daughter of God. Absolutely. And that the Convent believes that only it – or specifically the Abbess – knows what Mortain wants, while the question is raised as to whether the Convent is above deception? Doubt is cast on the Convent, even while relationship with Mortain Himself is strengthened. Ismae is a fun character. I slipped inside her skin so effortlessly, so that I still feel rather dangerous with various weapons strapped in hiding spots up my sleeves and skirts. (Ha!) I thought for sure I would learn all the in’s & out’s of her training at the Convent – like Paksennarian or The Song of the Lioness series. Instead, the story dives right into Ismae’s assignments. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was wondering how complicated this story would get if we leapt right through so much excitement so fast. She is intelligent & brave (rather than fearless). I love getting her thoughts behind each action, and I love her fast reflexes!! Duval is also very fun. He has layers of reactions and motivations to figure out, while being at the same time, highly enticing. Suspicious and sexy at the same time!! I was right there with Ismae as she experienced new love (great budding romance!) while remaining true to her beliefs and her deep conviction to serve the God of Death. When traitors abound, everyone is suspect!! Many of the secondary characters had surprising depth. Duval’s closest friends keep revealing greater depths, the council surrounding the Duchess holds surprises, the Convent and the handmaidens of Death have lots of secrets that they don’t give up even by the end of the story. The Duchess & her sister felt shallow to me, but if I was in either of their shoes, I could only hope to be as brave & decisive as they were. I'd probably run away. Grave Mercy does not have a cliff-hanger ending, but it does leave loose ends – rather loud loose ends. I wondered how the author could sleep at night without resolving these. (Ha!) Until I noted what book 2 in the series will be about… and entire book devoted to at least two of those loose ends, which gives me hope for the third, too. (Ack!! I hate not spoiler-talking!) As I read, I kept thinking of similar books I love. The court scenes reminded me of Crown Duel, which I love! Sometimes I was reminded me of King Arthur or Robin Hood or somewhere in between ‘em (all the Britain stuff - either inner fighting or against France). I already mentioned Cinderella, Paksennarion and the Song of Lioness… not to mention Graceling. What if Katsa had a different motivation for doing her killing job? Hehehehe And yet, Grave Mercy is unique, too. Some of the best of all of 'em rolled into something new. Cover Commentary: Love it. I love the red dress, with the windblown wild look & the suspicious back glance… especially with the castle and storm clouds in the background. The crossbow makes the picture for me, although it seems a little large for the weapon she hid in her skirts. I suppose of they’d given her a wee little crossbow, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Lol. My Rating: 5 - LOVE IT!! I think this is one of my favorite books. I definitely want this book on my bookshelf collection to reread when the urge hits, ‘cause it definitely will! It may be 500+ pages long, but I couldn’t put it down!!
Annie_Reads More than 1 year ago
Despite the fact that I read a ton (like several books a week) I have never posted a review to B&N. Until now, that is. This book absolutely blew me away. I bought it because of the favorable editorial reviews, but wasn't expecting a lot. Turned out to be phenomenal, from top to bottom. The characters in this book are so well written and realistic, it is hard not to understand and love them from the outset. Ismae, the main character, is nuanced and strong. She has a mind of her own, enough to question the stories she has been told and carve out her own path while staying true to her beliefs. The romance added just the right touch- it was not the focus of the story, but it was really lovely to see blossom as the characters grew to trust one another. The only thing I wish is that the book had been even longer! Though I do believe it ended very well. I am excited to read more of the story when the sequels come out- though it seems they do not focus on Ismae, I hope we will still see her from time to time. Overall an excellent book I recommend not only to those who enjoy historical fiction, but really anyone who is looking for something new. You won't be disappointed!
majibookshelf More than 1 year ago
I am so in love with this book! I devoured this book in a day and couldn't put it down. Every single moment of the book had me hooked and even with how big the book is, I read every single word and LOVED IT! I know that some people were slightly disappointed that there wasn't much "assassinations" happening in the book and it was mostly political scheming and plotting, however i have a faint heart and I am so glad that even the killing scenes weren't graphic! Also I loved the political talk in the book and while some people did find it confusing, Robin had two pages at the beginning of the book of all the names and their positions so you wouldn't get too confused. I have to admit that I flipped back and forth several times, but I was never lost, in fact I was fascinated that Robin could create such a complicated and strong plot. The story is set in the late 1400s and revolves around Ismae, who you will know to be a handmaiden to Death. She escapes an cruel arranged marriage and is put in the St. Mortain convent and taught to be an assassin. Her targets come from the god of Death Himself through a marque on the victim. On Ismae's third mission, she ends up traveling with the mysterious Duval to the high courts of Brittany, where she needs to keep close watch for any traitors to Brittany. This is when the scheming, plotting, and political backstabbing starts, and oh I ate it all up! I am especially fond of plots with these themes because I find them to be suspenseful, exciting, and just original. You discover many shocking secrets and have to grip the edge of your seat while your heart is pounding 5 times faster trying to read as fast as you can to find out just what happens next. I loved Ismae, she was smart, caught on to things pretty quickly, rational, and wasn't smitten with love the first chance she got to experience it. She began to question her knowledge of her covenant and her teachings at the right times so I didn't have to pull my hair and start one of my yelling sessions, good thing since i was reading it in the middle of the night and didn't want to wake anyone up! As for the romance in the book, I feel that this was what softened Ismae's heart and caused her to question her beliefs and heal some of her emotional scars. Duval was such a gentleman and I loved how loyal he was to his duties and how gentle he was with Ismae. To sum it up, I am totally in love with Grave Mercy and will be raving about it for a while until I get more people to read it and discuss it. Robin LaFevers delivered a strong debut, one that is going on my all time favorite books of 2012. The only downside to all of this is that now I have to wait a full year for the second book!
Falln2books More than 1 year ago
This book really surprised me. At first, I didn't know that it was set on the cusp of the High Middle Ages/Early Renaissance period. Once I found that out, I figured the book would bore me and that I wouldn't be able to connect to the character at all. However, I was wrong. Ismae has a terrible life until the people of the convent take her in. She is angry and bitter and ready to kill any man who dares to look at her, and the convent gives her the means and tools to do so. Over the course of the novel, though, she learns that life and death are both more complicated than she thought. Grave Mercy has strong characters, a captivating plot, and endless action. LaFevers will keep you guessing from the first page until the very last. The book starts out kind of slowly. It held my interest from page one, but the pages didn't start flying by until Ismae went to court. Then I could not put the book down. LaFevers holds true to the time period by having her characters speak properly. She goes through all of the rigid manners there, but somehow the dialogue doesn't fall flat. I thought the lack of contractions would bother me, but it didn't. She wasn't true to the dialogue of the region or the time period, thankfully, but she did hold true to the proper dialogue used in the higher echelons of society during the 1600s and beyond. I, for one, am glad that I didn't have to read a mixture of French and Gaelic, which was spoken in Bretagne at that time. There were some random French words throughout the narrative, but mainly just "merde," in place of obscenities, and "enchante," which I think everyone can translate. I didn't even notice the lack of contractions until the end of the book when I was like, "wow, that didn't bother me at all." Overall, I felt fully immersed in the time period, and because of LaFevers' wonderful world building, I could picture every place Ismae went, down to the types of clothes people were wearing. LaFevers doesn't overly explain things, she just gives enough description to get your imagination working, and I really liked that. She was very good at showing instead of telling, which you guys probably know by now is very important to me. The characters in this book were extremely well-developed, and I found myself attached to certain characters that I didn't even know I'd grown attached to until much later. Every single character, from Ismae, to the smallest secondary character, had a fully developed personality. And each character had his or her own quirks. No one was perfect, and no one was a cookie-cutter or stereotype. The characters added so much depth to this novel, and since I am a character person, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each and every character. My favorites were Ismae (of course), Duval, and Beast. Ismae was extremely complex, and even though I couldn't relate to her all the time (I've never wanted to be an assassin, haha), I could sympathize with her. I cared what happened to her, and I knew that she wasn't as cold-hearted as she wanted to be. It was fascinating to see how her character grew and changed over the course of this novel. The plot of this book was a bit complicated, but I was able to keep everything straight, which is a testament to what a good author LaFevers is. Court life, apparently, was extremely involved, and everyone was out to screw everyone else over. The pages flew by. I couldn't put the book down! I would recommend this
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
Brittany, 1485: Ismae bears a deep red stain from her left shoulder to her right hip--a tangible reminder of the herbwitch's poison that her mother used to try to expel Ismae from her womb. The poison didn't work. Proof, according to the herbwitch, that Ismae was sired by the god of death himself. Even without her wicked scar, Ismae's parentage would be a burden to bear. Fearful of the wrath of Mortmain everyone tolerates Ismae's presence but little beyond that. Her life is not one of comfort or compassion. Not until a priest gives Ismae one small kindness that will forever change her life. Taken from a brutal arranged marriage, Ismae is spirited across Brittany to the convent of St. Mortmain--a sanctuary where women like Ismae, her sisters of Mortmain, work to execute their god's work throughout Brittany. Staying at the convent will mean a new life. One where Ismae will be trained as an assassin to serve as a Handmaiden of Death. The decision, of course, is an easy one. After being the prey of others all her life, Ismae is more than ready to be the hunter. The life she chooses and the training are simple. At first. After Ismae completes her first assignment for the convent several complications arise. Thrown together with a man she cannot trust and little likes, Ismae finds herself at the center of Brittany's tangled politics as the country's young duchess struggles to hold onto her tenuous authority. The more Ismae learns about her country and her own heart, the less she understands about her teachings at the convent. Soon Ismae will have to decide if she can follow the will of her god while also following her own heart in Grave Mercy (2012) by Robin LaFevers. Grave Mercy is LaFevers' first young adult novel. (She is the author of several middle grade novels included my beloved Nathaniel Fludd books as R. L. LaFevers.) While the setting and language make for an immersive read, Grave Mercy takes a bit of time to get to the core plot not only starting years before the main story but also leading with tangentially related pieces of Ismae's training at the convent and her assignments. Readers expecting immediate action might be disappointed though rest assured patience will pay off in the end. Ismae, though sometimes frightening in her fierceness, is an engaging heroine as she makes her way through the labyrinths of both Breton politics and the inner workings of her own sisterhood. LaFevers handles the complicated matter of faith versus service well as Ismae works reconcile her own wants with her duties as a Handmaiden of Death. Although the latter part of the story drags as LaFevers works to resolve several plot threads, the tension is high enough to make up for it. Ismae's personal journey remains compelling throughout. Filled with intrigue, murder, and more than a few shady characters ¿Grave Mercy ¿is a definite page turner even if some shocking revelations are not so shocking when finally revealed. An excellent choice for fans of Megan Whalen Turner's Thief books or an alternative/follow-up to Kristin Cashore's novels. ¿Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy but this book works just as nicely on its own. Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, The Thief by Megan W
Shirley_Holmes More than 1 year ago
Originally posted on my blog: The Bibliophile's Corner I don’t think I have ever read a historical book about Brittany, but I definitely want to read more. The setting, the writing, honestly everything, was simply beautiful. The idea of assassin trained nuns is brilliant. Part of me wishes that this would have been an adult book so that the author could have gone into a bit more into this world of assassins. When it comes to characters, this book is well filled with fleshed out and people that I could imagine perfectly. First we have, Ismae. She is beautiful, strong, and has serious trust issues. I particularly loved how she developed in this book. It was almost painfully slow, but that’s why I loved it. She didn’t immediately morph into some completely different person, but gradually changed as she got closer to those around her. Duvall is a wonderful counterpart to Ismae. He too has serious trust issues, but then again, I would too if people kept trying to attack my little sister’s authority. From the beginning, I found myself a lot like Ismae. Weary of him, but at the same time just couldn’t connect this fiercely loyal man with a traitor. Not only did I find myself falling in love with his character, but also his best friends. Beast, a legend on the battlefield and de Lorney, a legend with the ladies. Both men were such good friends to Duvall and it was easy to see why the three of them fit each other so well. Another character who I love and can’t wait to read more of, is Sybella. She is another assassin and took quite a liking to Ismae when they met for the first time. It is clear from the beginning that Sybella is not mental stable. Whatever she suffered at the hand of her father and other men in her life, has literally driven her crazy. We only see her a couple of times in this book, but if I understand correctly, the second book in this series is about her. My absolute favorite part of this entire book is the believe and servitude to the god Mortain, or Death, as he popularly known as. I have always had a fascination with gods and goddesses of ancient times and I love this dedication that I see in Grave Mercy. While Death is always seen as someone to be feared, He is also someone who had mercy. That is something that Ismae comes to learn throughout this book. She also begins to notice that the convent is not exactly as trustworthy as she originally wanted to believe. Overall, this book is absolutely beautiful, brilliant, and must be read. Even if you are not a fan of YA, I highly encourage you to read it. First and foremost, this is a historical fiction novel. As I mentioned earlier, I do wish that it would have been more adult, but even as a book geared for teens, this is still a book that will leave you wanting more.
Berls More than 1 year ago
I received this book for free from Library, Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. I have to admit, I was nervous about reading Grave Mercy because its setting is one that I know TOO well. As a medieval historian, I worried I'd get caught up in the historical details and miss out on the story. But I read a great review from Lexxie @ (Un)Conventional Book Views and decided to give it a try. It didn't hurt that I was able to get it for free from Netgalley... though it did expire before I was finished, so the second half was a library grab. As it turns out, I wasn't at all distracted by historical details in Grave Mercy. For one, LaFevers did a really good job with historical elements. And, more importantly for me at least, the story was so good I couldn't be bothered to care! I loved the mixing of political intrigue, religious power (which was oh SO appropriate for this time period!) and female power. Not to mention a decent, though secondary romance.  I loved the female power the most. The main character - Ismae - is a daughter of St. mortain (or God of Death) and as a sister in his convent, she acts in one of the only roles of legitimate power for women during this period and only as a disguise for her greater purpose... as an assassin! Hell yes! I do have to say, bits of Grave Mercy dragged for me and - being a fairly lengthy novel - that was frustrating. But for the most part, I was glued to the story and characters. I look forward to more if this series - which, I believe, is complete. Even better! 
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
Killer Nuns?? Woo Hoo... Okay, I have to give this book props for one of the most original storylines I have encountered recently: a 15th century sect of nuns who worship the "old gods" and ancient saints and train novices to be assassins, seductresses, spies--it is pretty awesome. As some reviewers have noted, this IS a YA book, but it is one that most any adult with a rich imagination and a love of the medieval, historical fiction, and "out there" can enjoy. Ms. LaFevers' writing style is swift and engaging, quite gripping. I take off a star only because, at times, parts of the plot fall into the "oh come on" realm, but this is a fun read full of intriguing characters, action, history and romance. I have also read the follow up--Book II--and it is not nearly as good as this one. Pick this up.
PerfectlyTolerable More than 1 year ago
Grave Mercy is a story about a convent of female assassins, but it is not nearly as dark and gruesome as Nevernight (which I also loved but for entirely different reasons). Grave Mercy follows the story of Ismae, who is a daughter of the God of Death. Her mother tries to kill Ismae while she is still in the womb but she somehow survives. Years later her father tries to marry her off to an abusive man but she manages to escape to the convent of St. Mortain where she trains to become an assassin in service to Death himself. Even though this is a book about a convent of assassins it is not particularly religious. Yes, there is some talk about the Old Saints vs the New God, but its in passing, and used more for explanations and intrigue than anything religious. Also, for a book about assassins, there isn’t a ton of death. Yes there are killings, but they aren’t explained in gruesome detail. Furthermore, Grave Mercy doesn’t really going into the training of the assassins either. You are probably wondering “How is this book about a convent of assassins if it doesn’t focus on Religion, Killing, or Training?” Great question! I’m glad you asked! Its about Ismae and her first real assignment – protecting the Duchess of Brittany from the French crown and her own nefarious council. There is a lot of political intrigue, which I found super interesting, but it didn’t lack for action either. In the world of the high court of Brittany you never know who to trust and trusting the wrong people can cost you dearly. Grave Mercy isn’t only about betrayal and intrigue and plotting. There is also a good amount of love – both romantic and platonic. You see examples of strong families and loving brothers that are juxtaposed against toxic family relationships and misplaced family ties. The duchess tries to find even a hint of romance in her arranged marriage and Ismae fights against her heart. There is a little bit of everything and I love it! I would totally recommend this book to anyone who loves assassins and romance and political intrigue!!
Lavinient on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wasn't really in the mood to read a young adult book when I started this ARC, so it was nice to find this book read more like an adult historical fiction with a bit of romance in it. The main character, Ismae, though innocent at times, never really acts like a teenager in my opinion. I think the author meant for Ismae to be 17 years old for most of the book, per the description, but three years pass in the convent, so that would make her 20 years old for the majority of the book. Or maybe she was younger when married off? I don't know; Ismae never says how old she is in the book, so I was a bit confused. In any case, it's the 15th century, so no matter if she is 14, 17, or 20, she is considered an adult and, for the most part, acts like one. Ismae has just been married off by her abusive father to another abusive man. She escapes with the help of the local herbwitch and priest to the convent of St. Mortain. Mortain is also worshiped as one of the old gods as the god of Death. The sisters of this convent are trained to be his assassins. Ismae has an affinity with poisons. She is immune to poisons and the preparation of them comes naturally to her. After three years of training, her first two assignments go well. The third one will be her true test. It involves her entering Brittany's high court by acting as mistress to Gavriel Duval, half-brother to Anne, who is to become sovereign Duchess of Brittany. Part of her assignment is trying to figure out if Duval is working for or against his sister. I really enjoyed the political intrigue. Anne is a real historical figure, and LaFevers did a great job introducing us to that time period and court. LaFevers fits the made up characters in nicely. Ismae is a little over her head at times, though. She tended to skip the "womanly arts" lessons at the convent for poison making, so flounders at times acting the mistress. And she is very confused when she realizes she actually has feelings for Duval, but still is not sure if she can trust him. Though Duval and Ismae end up working together, neither is completely honest with each other. Ismae also ends up questioning her devotion to her convent when she gets conflicting orders from them. She is a great character to follow, though I do wish we could have had Duval's point of view also. This is a great book if you are looking for a historical fiction with a dash of fantasy and romance. ARC provided through NetGalley
Bookswithbite on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I read the first page, I was done for. Never in my life have I been so captivated by merely the first words on the first page. This book is by far my favorite read of 2012.The one thing that captured me the most is the character. I loved the redemption in her. She was thrown down, beaten, and misused, yet she grew stronger silently on the inside biding her time. I love that despite what was happening around her, she knew vengeance would be hers. Ismae is my new fave gal. She fierce, strong and someone I would love to be.The plot of this book is also dynamic. I loved how the author captures the readers where her life is spiraling downward, then picks up to something new. With every new chapter, Ismae grows more. She learns the secrets of the covenant, weapons and stealth.I'm not sure what else to say other than this book totally rocks. Ismae fights strong and knows who she is. There are several other kick-butt characters that take this story to a whole new level of awesomeness!Grave Mercy is a powerful start to an amazing series to come. Grave Mercy is compelling yet addicting. The brilliant writing of Robin LaFevers pulls the reader to a world of betrayal and action. Grave Mercy is a must read!
Abibliophobic1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Grave Mercy is a simply stunning and elegant book that will grab you from page one. I was so excited for this book to come out and so when I received an early copy, I couldn't wait to get started. LaFevers has created a novel full of political intrigue, poison, treachery, and of course, a convent full of highly skilled assassins¿In 15th century Brittany, Ismae is a seventeen year old girl who happens to be a trained assassin of St. Mortain, the patron saint of death. As a child, she narrowly escapes her father¿s marriage arrangements and finds herself living at the convent of St. Mortain; training in the arts of poison, weapontry, politics and even womanly charms. Her life's purpose is only to serve her patron saint and when she is sent to live at court and play the role of mistress to Gavriel Duval, a man close to the Duchess whom her convent suspect of treason, she is hell bent on proving herself to her convent and to her saint. As she is immersed into the world of the well born, she finds that she can trust no one and that everyone, even those she trusts above all others can be far more dangerous than she could have ever imagined...The absolute best part of this novel is Ismae, our heroine.LaFevers has created a powerful and independant young woman that gets herself through some very dangerous situations. Most importantly in the story, we see Ismae grow up before our eyes. As a young child, she agrees with everything that her beloved convent tells her is true. And who wouldn't do they same for a convent of women who saved her from a cruel life filled with evil men. Once she enters court and begins to become a little bit more independant, she begins to have her own opinions and think independnatly. She eventually begins to question the convent and the beliefs that are drilled into her. As a reader, you find yourself encouraging her to keep questioning her loyalties and to make her own decisions. Her growth through out the story made it a great story to read. The tone LaFevers set for this story was just awesome. Her incorporation of French history to the rich descriptions of the characters dress, the political intrigue, the poisons and even assassinations have you breathless for more and have you wishing you could furthur imurse yourself in LaFevers's world. The only thing I would have liked to see more of was some more assassin action from Ismae! During the few times that we see her in her element, carrying out the wishes of her saint, it makes you wish you lived in 15th century Brittany and were a killing machine. This being said, the plot was extremely well layered and LaFevers left no detail left undone when it came to her plot as well as her character development. I don't think I can wait until next year for the second story in this series!After you're done reading Grave Mercy, defintely check out LaFeverss' website. She gives insight to the history behind the story (but this does contain some spoilers if you haven't read the book yet!) It will be released April 3, 2012!10 our of 10
callmecayce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got this via NetGalley and was surprisingly enthralled. Grave Mercy is about Ismae, a young woman who leads a miserable life, until she's rescued and sent to a convent -- where she'll learn to be an assassin. But there's so much more to the story, including a surprising and satisfying love story. The story takes place mostly in France and involves political intrigue, poisons and lots of spying. There's a supernatural element to the story, which is played out in a truly interesting way. I liked the characters and while this is part of a series of sorts, Grave Mercy does a very good job of being a stand alone novel. I will definitely check out the next book, though.
ahandfulofconfetti on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
5 of 5 stars.Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the e-galley of Grave Mercy (via NetGalley).Seventeen-year-old Ismae was rescued from a brutal arranged marriage three years earlier when she was taken to the convent of St. Mortain. Here she was trained to become a deadly assassin, able to wield weapons and poisons with dangerous precision. When it's believed that Anne of Brittany's older brother, Gavriel Duval, is betraying his sister and country to the French, Ismae is sent to become a member of his household in order to keep an eye on him. Having grown up in a country town and then a convent, Ismae must learn to navigate the intrigues and deceptions of court, all the while trying not to fall in love with the person she very well may have to kill.This book was really and truly awesome. Honestly, that was my only thought the entire time I was reading it, and once I'd finished. I absolutely adored the look at this semi-fictional Brittany, with the insertion of the magic and lore of the gods and the beliefs of those that followed them. I found Ismae to be a really refreshing heroine with a wonderful voice; while physically strong and capable, she's far from perfect, and has to navigate not only her past but her uncertainty regarding her present and future. I loved watching her grow as she started to really question what she wanted to do with her life and the fact that the convent might not always be right, or even the best path for her. She was faced with a lot of truly difficult decisions, and I was rooting for her as she navigated them all.
Lauren_W on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I receive quite a few advanced reader copies through my work. When I got Grave Mercy, the first the His Fair Assassin trilogy, I didn¿t think much of it. I had seen the trailer, read the blurb, and heard the hype. The author, Robin Lafevers, touted her book as a historical, action, adventure, romance with a supernatural twist. And I had heard that line before, so I didn¿t give it much thought as I took the ARC home. As is my custom, I scanned the first few pages to get a feel for the book. Five and a half hours later, I finished it. Grave Mercy is a story set in France, during a time when plague is a threat, and the Church has not suppressed the Old Ways. Into this world, a girl names Ismae is born. Not to a mortal father, but to the supposed god of death. She is trained in an Abby to be a Handmaiden for her father, living the life of an assassin and spy. Ismae must untangle a courtly plot, learn about her own heritage, and the truth of the mission at the abbey, before the last page is turned. Suspense ensues.Ismae is a wonderful character. More headstrong than wise, full of passion, and a desire to serve her cause¿ even if it means killing the only man she¿s ever cared for. Duval, the other interest in this story, is not the atypical male lead, found all too often in YA fiction. He is fierce, and everything he does, he does with an intensity that made him steal scenes. I smiled whenever I saw him walk onto the page, and cheered after almost every single line of dialog he had.As for the writing, I appreciated the fact that Robin LaFevers does not treat YA readers like idiots. She draws us into the story, and makes no bones about the details of the harsh life in France, or the dangerous situations an assassin can get herself into. For that reason, if you are a parent considering this for your child, please read it first. This story is PG-13, for sexual situations, and, of course, gruesome death. But, as these situations and death all relate directly to the plot, I had no problem with them.In short: there was action, there was adventure, there was romance, and there was a knock-your-socks-off supernatural twist. Grave Mercy is a well-written, fully realized work, with spectacular characters, and complete, satisfying end that left me gasping. Hallelujah. And. Amen. Needless to say, I will be giving this book my full recommendation upon its release in April. For those of you who have to wait for it, I recommend The Gathering Storm, by Robin Bridges. But when April 3rd rolls around, I suggest you clear your calendar! Happy reading!
MonicaLynn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very interesting and fun read for me. Ismae Rienne was born thinking she was unwanted by her mother because her mother was given poison to try and get rid of her in the womb. She ended up with a Turnip farmer to grow up and was given away to a terrible man to marry when she was of age, he was so afraid of her when she undressed due to the scar that was on her body from when she was born. The Woman who poisoned her mother ended up helping her to get away from her cruel husband and sent her to the Church to learn of the god Mortian (The God of Death). Due to her upbringing Ismae hated men and was glad to start her work in learning how to kill men. Ismae learns quickly in the arts of killing men who are marked by Mortian to die. Afer 3 years at the abby learning how to use her womanly woes to seduce men, fight, and poison men she goes out on her first adventure which does not go exactly as planned, then onto another. All the while the abbess has something specific in mind for Ismae. Ismae ends up with Gavriel Duval in Brittany trying to help him save his country and his dutchess from having to marry the awful D'Albret. In her journey she finds that all men are not so evil and although what she has been taught by the church is helpful, she also learns that Mortians will is not exactly how it has been betrayed to her and she wonders if she should take her vows and return to the Abby once her assignment is over. With many adventurous battles physical and moral, Ismae finds herself and her true love of her god and maybe just maybe the man in her life. This book was very interesting and a fun read for me, I enjoyed the charaters and the descriptions of them made me feel like I was right in the book looking at them. Fun Fun read.
AyleeArgh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In short: With an intriguing premise and a strong heroine, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is sure to enchant readers.You know that when a book features nun assassins, it has got to be a good one. Seriously, how cool is the premise for Grave Mercy? Girl, trained to be an assassin by a group of nuns and to serve Death Himself - it's creative, it's intriguing, and it's incredibly strange, but also obviously awesome. To add to that, Grave Mercy is one of those books whose first few pages are made up of a map and an index of characters to keep track of things. Automatic win. All these factors indicated that Grave Mercy would have a complex and attractive plot, and as it turns out, it most definitely did.Ismae was the strength of Grave Mercy for me. Even coming from such a dismal upbringing, abused first by her father and then by her husband, she maintains a remarkable and admirable strength of character. Once she is taken in by the convent of Mortain, she is trained in the art of combat, poison making, and seduction, all in the aim of making her an effective killing machine. She serves as a loyal handmaiden of Death, sometimes blindly following the orders of the convent, taking people's lives without question.It is only when she meets Duval, a Breton noble who is a lot like Ismae in his practicality and strength, that she begins to doubt what the convent has taught her. Maybe her purpose as Death's handmaiden isn't to be a killing machine after all, but instead as something much more important and meaningful. I loved seeing Ismae come to this realization and develop as a character throughout Grave Mercy. And I adored Ismae and Duval's slow-burn relationship as it developed, starting out in a place of distrust and then slowly moving to a place of mutual respect and gradual affection.At 549 pages, Grave Mercy really flew by, except perhaps in a few sections in which discussion of the politics behind who the Duchess of Brittany should marry dragged a bit. Other than that, Grave Mercy maintains a fast pace filled with action and intrigue that will captivate the reader. Grave Mercy is my first Robin LaFevers book and I don't plan on it being my last. I'm a bit disappointed that the next two books in the His Fair Assassin series, Dark Triumph and Dark Hope, will not feature a return to Ismae and Duval's story but instead will showcase the lives of two other girls from the convent, but I am hopeful that they will make an appearance at some point.
hrose2931 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ismae has lived a life of being beaten and abused at the hands of men and boys. When she is sold to the pig farmer as a wife, she has hopes for better treatment, but as soon as the wedding is over, she realizes her life will be no different has she is backhanded and lands on the floor. But when her chemise is torn and her husband sees the scar on her from where her mother tried to get rid of her before she was born, he sends for the priest, the real one that worships Jesus Christ, not the one that married them and worshipped the old saints, the old gods. She is rescued from him and handed over to the abbey. From death to death's handmaiden.Ismae is a quick learner in the art of killing men. She probably takes great pleasure in thinking of killing them as much as she has suffered from them. But she isn't the kind of character you pity. Ismae doesn't feel sorry for herself so it's hard to feel sorry for her yourself as the reader. She is one cold calculated killer. She relishes working with the poison master, learning all the ways to murder with poison. She's adept with all kinds of knives, swords and crossbows. She does not know of love. She has two true friends in the abbey, Sybella and Annith. Ismae is thrilled on her first two assignments, I think just for the thrill of killing men. Feeling the power over them, taking back her power that she didn't have for so long. Now, I'm not suggesting she's a serial killer. She prays for their souls and looks for a marque on them before she dares to kill them, but instead of remorse, she is giddy after her first kill.The convent is basically producing assassins. And they don't want their assassins to take things into their own hands or think for themselves. They want robots that blindly follow the orders of the abbey. That's a problem for Ismae and that's one reason why I start to love Ismae. One of them. She's a complete mess when it comes to using her feminine wiles. She has none. She's been too busy working on learning the art of killing to work on what the convent calls "feminine artistry." So, when she has to be presented at court for her latest and longest assignment, it's a difficult job. She has to play mistress to a man she's not even sure she can trust. So what's the bottom line? What is all this killing and these assignments what's the goal? To ensure the safety of Anne the Duchess of Brittany who is besieged by France and spies and traitors all over the place. She is being forced to marry at 14 and to rule Brittany and she hardly knows who to trust. You can imagine that our dear Ismae connects with her. At any cost, to herself or anyone else, even the convent, Ismae will protect Anne. And right there, the big sister to Anne thing, seals my love for Ismae.This is a long novel, but it absolutely flew by for me with the personal relationship between Anne and Ismae, and Ismae and Gavriel Duval, Anne's half brother and the man to whom Ismae is pretending to be mistress. Then there is all the court intrigue. And who Anne will be forced to marry. And Sybella is she there and that Governess. I was so wrapped up in the story I forgot it wasn't really happening. I cried several times at the last part of the story, so get your kleenex. I am not a crier. It must have been one hell of a story to write because it's one hell of a story to read. Ismae grows from that scared little "yes" girl that was "saved" by the convent to a young woman who questions right and wrong and light and dark. She does her duty, but not without regret and does not take it lightly. She is a strong woman in a time when women weren't strong. She's a great character and now, one of my favorites in YA.There is a lovable and detestable crowd of secondary characters and you will get attached to some. There is a love story, but it's not the focus of the story. It plays a big part, but in keeping with the 1400's it is fairly chaste. I thought Ismae's constant questioning of herself and Gavriel's motives was humo
MargK on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First thing's first. I must admit that I skimmed this book. I skimmed it hard. I was also only semi-consciously reading certain bits, and I may have fallen asleep with eyes wide open a few times. In my defense, however, this book was not at all what I was expecting. Plus, it was long...and draggy...and soooo incredibly boring (in my personal opinion of course). Truth be told, the only reason I continued reading Grave Mercy through to the bitter end was because I've been DNFing way too many books lately, and consequently I guilt-tripped myself into finishing this one.So what lured me in and convinced me to read Grave Mercy in the first place? I've got two words for you: Assassin Nuns. We all know that assassins are pretty damn cool and totally badass. And those of us who have attended Catholic school at some point in our lives also know that the convent can be full of some really interesting & unique characters.Take for example Sister Elizabeth. She may have been 90-years-old, 5 feet tall, legally blind in both eyes, and extremely hard of hearing, but the woman had a surprisingly fine-tuned spidey sense that alerted her (without fail) to all of our mischievous behaviors. Additionally, she had the uncanny ability to appear out of thin air like a super-sneaky ninja whenever we were up to no good. Another example would be Sister Richard, who looked like John Goodman in drag and who we suspected had narcolepsy since she repeatedly fell asleep in the middle of class. The woman would go all She Hulk on us whenever we came within a foot of her prized ceramic miniature animal collection, but she had a wise-cracking sense of humor and an arsenal of inappropriately funny jokes that would make any standup comedian very proud.Unfortunately, no such fascinating, eccentric personalities were present anywhere in this book. Barely any time at all was devoted to the convent at which Ismae, the heroine, was trained and the nuns were very briefly introduced by short definition of their teaching roles/titles. In fact, all of the characters in this book seemed underdeveloped, and most of them were barely two-dimensional, possessing one single predominant trait that defined who they were (aside from being categorized as one of the good guys or one of the bad guys). I also had no freakin' clue what anyone actually looked like. Descriptions were provided, but the characterizations were so superficial that I could never concretely picture them in my mind.This brings me to my biggest issue with Grave Mercy...it lacked heart & substance. The plot dragged along a linear path with unclear significance. Characters popped in and out of the story, but I was never given the chance to really get to know them. And thus, I didn't give a damn about what happened to them or how they impacted the heroine's life & mission.Speaking of Ismae, I never connected with her either. Her characterization seemed inconsistent & wishy-washy. She went from hating & fearing men to fixating on, drooling over, and falling in love with one at a drop of a hat. She was frustratingly closed-minded and (despite multiple red flags waving right in front of her face) didn't really stop to question who she killed & why until she conveniently fell in love with a man she was later ordered to assassinate. Moreover, she was supposedly taught how to kill a person in a hundred different ways and yet she constantly allowed herself to be manhandled by Duval (aka McBroody)¿the most boring love interest eva.And while I'm on the topic of things that bored me out of my mind, let me warn you that contrary to what the synopsis might imply, there was very little assissiny action in this book. In reality, majority of the story revolved around the predictable, cliched romance between Ismae & McBroody as well as a whole lot of tedious yawn-inducing court politics. I kept waiting for Ismae to get in touch with her inner La Femme Nikita, but the girl mostly just played dress up in cl
BookAddictDiary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf? Ismae has always known that she doesn't quite fit in. After her mother attempted to end her pregnancy with Ismae, the girl was born with a horrendous birthmark, that many claimed marked her as the daughter of Death. At the age of 17, Ismae is married off to a brutal man who has little love for her. After running away, Ismae takes refuge in the convent of St. Mortain, a strange place where the sister practice the art of assassination to serve the god of Death. Somewhat reluctantly, Ismae learns the sister's ways, and is sent on a dangerous assignment to the high court of Brittany, where she becomes entangled in a deadly web of lies, intrigue and betrayal.Set in an alternate 12th century England, Grave Mercy weaves together medieval history and superstition with the supernatural and the unexpected into a seamless and fascinating tale of a young girl thrown into a deadly world. Author Robin LaFevers does an excellent job of painting a haunting world with dark, almost stony tones that feel like the Dark Ages. From the first word up to the last, I was completely mesmerized with the incredible word-smithing that went into each powerful sentence.Not only does LaFevers offer an incredible setting, but her plot offers plenty of unexpected twists and turns in a unique world. She takes readers into unexpected places of carefully-woven politics and court intrigue that isn't typical for the YA novel. I really loved this approach -it infused the novel with adult-oriented issues, and forced the main character, Ismae, to confront more adult problems that the typical teen book.Probably the only issue I had with this novel was the passage of time. It seemed a little off. Basically, in about two pages Ismae goes from a blushing bride to a battered wife on the run. When she arrives at the convent, Ismae not only seems to accept her role as handmaiden of Death far too easily, but it felt like her assassin training was far too easy and quick. Then, before I knew it, Ismae was being packed off on a serious assignment -why would they trust something so important to a novice? -and suddenly seems to be a top-notch assassin with super assassin powers. While it was pretty cool, I just didn't buy that this could all happen in such a seemingly short period of time.Despite this, Grave Mercy is an excellent YA historical novel. Highly recommended!
usagijihen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Guys, you better believe that I¿m preordering this one. Yeah, it was that good. Medieval nun assassins? Hello. I was lucky enough to get an e-arc through netgalley when they were still offering it late last year, and I¿m glad I did. I wasn¿t sure I would like it as much as I did, but LaFevers weaves a fantastic yet plausible tale that has major potential to become (depending on the length of the series) a new voice in YA epic fantasy. And we all know how many YA epic fantasy series there are. I think I can count them on one hand. Maybe.Anyway, I don¿t think I can gush enough about ¿Grave Mercy¿. If you like ass-kicking heroines, this is so definitely the YA book for you.I think the most fantastic part of this book is the worldbuilding. It¿s built upon the real historical struggle for Brittany in medieval France, and the political framework laid down for the book (even down to the abbesses duking it out for the sake of the kingdom/duchy) seemed very realistic. And then there¿s the fantasy ¿ Saint Mortain and his gifted are well-positioned throughout the book, with rich mythology backing them (and the history of this fictitious Brittany) up repeatedly throughout the book. Everything is connected to Mortain (he is death, after all), and thus back into the actual world that LaFevers builds, so I felt very firmly rooted for the duration of the novel and never felt like I had to scramble for purchase as to when and where I was within the story.The characters: very well-rounded, tightly-woven, and though I had some questions about the relationships (Are Ismae and Sybella more than Sisters-in-Mortain?), there was nothing to pick at, there. The pacing was quick, but not too quick, and the arcs and the sub-arcs fired off without a hitch. Really, there¿s nothing for me to complain about or pick at here. I just kind of sat back and enjoyed the ride. I gulped it down in two or three sittings, and then promptly asked for more.Uh, I¿m now begging for more, the more that I think about it.Ismae is a strong heroine that isn¿t caught between two boyfriends, though the trope of being ¿caught between duty and love¿ was used, I could forgive it (it¿s not one of my favorite tropes in any lit, especially YA) because this book was written so damn well. It was consistent, and there wasn¿t insta-love, either. The relationship that happens between Ismae and her love interest is very natural, so I didn¿t so much as blink when it actually happened. It wasn¿t overly obvious, but you did know it was coming (it even says so in the teaser). All the same, it wasn¿t rushed, but when it happened, I didn¿t feel like it was forced. Though I will admit the seed of the idea that Sybella and Ismae might have been more than just fellow assassin-nuns did tantalize me quite a bit (I¿d love to hear more about that in the second book, LaFevers. Please?).Final verdict? Read it. Even if you¿re not a fan of fantasy or historical fiction, I think there¿s something for everyone within this very strong first book in the ¿His Fair Assassin¿ series. Be sure to catch ¿Grave Mercy¿ when it hits stores/your local library in early April. It¿s really that awesome. Definitely one of the best of 2012 so far!(posted to goodreads, shelfari, librarything, and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)
jacindahinten on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
booktwirps on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Holy cow! Where do I begin? I guess I should say that I¿ve never been drawn to Historical Fiction ¿ at least never to anything before the twentieth century. I don¿t know why, I just never had any interest in it. It was kind of like my relationship with science fiction ¿ it just didn¿t grab my attention. I saw this book on NetGalley and I thought it sounded interesting, sort of like ¿Nikita in the 14th century¿, but I didn¿t bother requesting it because I just assumed I wouldn¿t be into it. When the reviews from some of my blogger buddies started coming in I figured I would give it a shot, and boy, am I glad I did! The first chapter grabbed my attention, the second chapter held it and by the fourth or fifth chapter I was hooked. First of all, the writing is impeccable. The language really puts you in the moment without being distracting, and the story is filled with lots of action, intrigue and drama ¿ oh, the drama. The idea of these young girls trained by a group of nuns to serve Mortain, the God of death, totally intrigued me, but when you wrap that in with all of the secrets, lies and backstabbing of royal families hungry for power it upped the intrigue tenfold. What also really grabbed me were the characters. Each of them had a distinct voice as well as both good and bad qualities. No one is 100% innocent and everyone is questionable, even Ismae. Ismae (the main character) has sworn to serve Mortain, God of death, and carry out his bidding. If Mortain needs to claim a soul, it is up to Ismae (or one of her assassin sisters) to take that life. Ismae never knows when she will see the mark of Mortain, and when she does, she must kill the person who bears the mark, no questions asked. That is her oath to the convent, and one she is forbidden to ignore. The only time she is allowed to kill someone is when she sees the mark, or if a life is in danger. She really struggles with this as she meets people who obviously have evil intentions and she feels they should be done away with, but she can¿t do anything about it. I had no trouble getting inside Ismae¿s head, and like her, was wary of everyone she came into contact with. There were people I wanted to be marked by Mortain because I felt she needed to kill them and there were others that I hoped and prayed would be good and tell the truth so she wouldn¿t have to murder them. The further I got into the book, the thicker the web of lies seemed to grow, and just when you think you¿ve got it figured out, something happens to throw you off. Despite all of the back and forth action and the lies and deception, I never got confused. It is an awesome read full of mystery, intrigue, love and deception. I haven¿t read anything like it in ¿ well ¿ a really long time, if ever. I will warn that this one isn¿t really for the younger crowd or more sensitive readers. It is historically accurate in the sense that we are dealing with young girls, sold off or married off into wedlock at an early age (13 or 14), often times to brutish, dirty old men. There is talk of sex and physically abusive relationships, which was very common then, so be aware of that. I can¿t wait to buy the hardback version of this one. I highly recommend it! (Review based on an Advanced Reader¿s Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley)
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I did NOT want to put this one down! Courtly intrigue! Swoony romance! NUNS OF DEATH!!! Hand this one to your fans of GRACELING and Tamora Pierce ASAP. Highly recommended!