When I first picked up Grave Mercy by Robin LaFever, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have never been a big fan of books with an unnaturally attractive female on the front cover, but I knew I needed to broaden my horizons when it came to books. In my many trips to the bookstore I had never picked up a book like Grave Mercy, but on this particular voyage to the store, I felt a little… adventurous to say the least; turns out my spontaneous side was right. Grave Mercy goes on my bookshelf, which, to be honest, is hard to get on.
The first fourth of the book is that stereotypical “girl lives in terrible conditions, gets a better life, but constantly reminds the reader of how terrible her life is” kind of book. To be fair I understand why Mrs. Lafevers did this, and while the way the cliché is put into the book is smooth, I still hated it. It’s a call for a pity party and I wanted it to end. Thankfully the party ended soon after Ismae, the main heroine of the novel, meets her first major assignment. It seems as if Ismae becomes too wrapped up in her job that she loses focus on her past and finally begins to put her hard, terrible life of abuse behind her.
The introduction of the convent of Mortain’s followers is full of marvelous detail that creates a vivid image in the reader’s head. From the somber boat ride there to the awkward hellos between the reverend mother and Ismae, everything about the convent’s entrance is perfect. The characters, some introduced as friendly, such as Annith, and some, like Sybella, who holds a mountain full of mystery in her, are all full of fabulous detail that give them each their own being in the reader’s head. While Sybella does not have much interaction with Ismae in the first book of the His Fair Assassin series, Mrs. Lafevers makes it quite obvious that Sybella will play a major roll in the books to follow. Sybella is only seen a few times throughout the novel, and each time is wrapped in confusion because not a lot of character comes from her except the fact that she had been badly damaged in the past by whomever she was with. Her character continued to baffle me each time she appeared, including their brief run in near the castle. Even though the meeting was short, the turmoil between the two heroines shines through the details.
When Gavriel Duval is first introduced into Ismae’s never ending list of people she needs to know for her assignment, he is seen as a sort of enemy figure. Their first encounter is anything but joyous, and it seems to only get worse from there until Ismae begins to realize that maybe she doesn’t need to follow every bit of Mortain’s rules 100% of the time. While her change is subtle, it is definitely there as her character begins to change, focusing around Duval and his actions.
As Grave Mercy moves forward, the plot begins to thicken immensely, forcing characters into tough decisions that could mean the defeat or triumph of a nation. The soon-to-be Duchess of Brittany is faced with multiple arranged marriages that she is able to squeeze her way out of because of Duval and her close advisors, but as soon as the one marriage proposal she agrees with is ruined, the entire Duchy goes into complete chaos. Advisors are blaming the bastard, Duval, and others are blaming Ismae. The disorder thickens when Duval is poisoned and d’Albret, one of the biggest douche bags of the book, and Madam Dinan team together to take down anything that threatens d’Albret’s chances to get on the throne next to Anne, the soon-to-be Duchess.
I wanted to give Duval his own paragraph. Even though Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice will always have my heart, Duval comes in at second place. I may or may not have a thing for men that come off as cold in the beginning, and as the character, whether it be Elizabeth or Ismae, gets to know their true love’s, the man’s heart begins to open up and allow for comfort that comes in the form of a woman’s love. Duval’s transformation from cold Mr. “I hate everyone” to a man that is capable of love is one of the smoothest transitions I have read. During Duval and Ismae’s time together in Anne’s castle, Ismae is seen as Duval’s mistress and is treated as such for some time until Ismae’s true identity is revealed to help Anne and the rest of the Duchy. Each night Duval enters Ismae’s quarters while she sleeps and leaves an hour or two later. As each night comes and goes, Duval’s actions begin to soften and Ismae recognizes this as this transition occurs. These particular scenes were lovely to read; the imagery was beautifully placed and allowed for the reader to be transported into the book as they read.
The research that went into writing Grave Mercy had to have taken up many hours of free time, and a few notebooks. At the end of the novel there is a short authors note that explains that all of the characters and historical events that took place within Grave Mercy are true. Unfortunately, however, Duval did not exist, and neither did the convent of Mortain, the God of Death.
Grave Mercy deserves more than a place on the Young Adult shelf in your local Barnes and Noble. I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to stray away from many YA novels because of the absence of skill when it comes to writing, but Mrs. Lafevers has opened my eyes to a new genre of book that I have been weary about in the past.
Purchase Grave Mercy by Robin Lafevers here:
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