Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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? (courtesy of Goodreads)
Grave Mercy is a must for any lover of historical romance! Like many readers I picked up Grave Mercy on the basis of two words: "assassin nuns." I just love that phrase. I excitedly told my husband that I was reading a book about "assassin nuns." The silly guy rolled his eyes. I told my parents I was reading a book about "assassin nuns." They thought that was pleasantly nice. I wanted to shout "assassin nuns" from the rooftop simply for the coolness factor.
"Assassin nuns" is enough of a reason to read Grave Mercy, but it gets even better. Grave Mercy is a story full of girl power, romance, political intrigue, and killing people. Poison and crossbows.
Ismae is a fabulous leading lady who goes through enormous changes during the novel. She starts out full of self hatred. Left with a huge scar from a poison that her mother used to try to miscarry, she lives with the physical evidence that she was unwanted. The old wives tale that she was sired by Death makes her even weirder. Her father hates her. Her soon to be husband is the type who will hate her too. Rescued at the last moment by the sisters of St. Mortain, Ismae learns that she really is a daughter of Death (Mortain) and is to serve him by killing those men that Mortain has marked. Fast forward three years and Ismae is strong, confident in her abilities as an assassin, and determined to never again let a man trod upon her. She lives to serve Mortain and bring men to justice.
My favorite Ismae quote: "The sharp metallic tang of my weapons is more welcome than the finest perfume." (p. 239) Perhaps Ismae would feel differently if my favorite Chanel Chance perfume existed in 15th century Brittany.
Enter Duval. He and Ismae are similar in personality. Duval is supremely confident, as loyal to his Duchess as Ismae is to the convent, as skilled as politics and fighting as Ismae is at assassination, as mistrusting of Ismae and she is of him. As you would expect from two people whose good and bad qualities coincide so strongly, clashes between them occur immediately. Few things are more fun than romantic tension. The banter between them was at first fraught with anger, but slowly grow into trust, respect, and eventually love. There were definitely a few squeal moments. My favorite scenes were when he spent the night in Isame's room - but not in the way you'd expect.
Politics and history were a big part of Grave Mercy. I had forgotten that Brittany was once independent of France and fiercely fought for its continued liberty. Duval and Ismae are helping to protect Brittany by ensuring a profitable marriage to its ruling Duchess. Some reviewers complained that the book was too slow. You may feel that way if you're not a big fan of historical fiction or high fantasy, two genres where details and world building are as important as the plot and characters. But I thought the book proceeded at a steady pace and was richer because of the time spent on background. I also love that the relationship between Duval and Ismae developed very slowly. It allowed enough time for each character to respect the other as an equal. I particularly loved seeing Duval's trust in Isame's intelligence and abilities, something you don't see often enough in YA (or any genre).
As you'd expect from a book featuring assassin nuns, there's lots of action. People die. In all sorts of ways. I loved how the fight scenes were written. First of all, they weren't the same. Too often in action novels, it feels like the same characters fight in exactly the same way at different parts of the book. Here the instruments of fighting, the characters involved, the motivation, and the outcomes were different every time. It kept the book fresh. Plus, the scenes were perfectly described. I could see the fighting as though it was right in front of me. Best of all, they were equally spread throughout the book. I didn't have to wait until the end of the story to see some action. But neither was the book one giant fight scene. Everything flowed smoothly.
I highly recommend Grave Mercy. It has something for everyone: romance, humor, girl power, action, politics, history and more. It's definitely one of the best reads of 2012 thus far!