Title: Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Book 1)
Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: 2012
Seventeen-year-old Ismae finds refuge in the sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain following the horrors of an arranged marriage. Set in Brittany in 1485, the sisters serve the gods of old and Mortain is the God of Death. Ismae quickly learns that she has been blessed with dangerous gifts and skills that can honed to serve him better. She chooses to stay at the convent and learns the skills of a trained assassin to serve her master. For three years, Ismae studies the ways of being a handmaiden of Death when an opportunity arises to prove her worthiness and serve both Mortain and protect her homeland from threats of a French invasion.
Unfortunately for Ismae, her assignment interferes with that of Gavriel Duval, brother to the Duchess and heir to the throne. He needs those who have been marked by Mortain to be alive so he can gain information about impending hostilities. An uneasy alliances forms as the two must work together to save themselves and their country’s future.
When I saw this book in the Teen Section, I thought my daughter might enjoy it. It seemed to be a good adventure, combined with some references to history, and a little bit of romance. She was disinterested, so I gave it a try. I liked it; I really liked it. However, and this is really important, it is not for everyone and I think leans more toward an “older” teen read than a “young adult.” The girls are trained to kill; that is their purpose and although I didn’t feel that the story was graphic, it was told from the girl’s perspective as she is completing her job. I should note that the people she kills are bad, but still.
Most of the men in the book are domineering and cruel, and the Ismae must fight for her purity and survival. There is some romance and although the descriptions are vague, sex is implied. Also, be reminded that the story focuses on the old pagan gods.
Re-reading over what I wrote, I still liked the book. It was definitely an interesting twist and the not everyone is who they seem to be. There are illusions to two more books that are in the series. The story draws from historical events and people, with the political intrigue and the ever-changing alliances; I think that is what I most enjoyed. There is definitely an element of mythology to the story that gives it a more fictional fantasy feel.
Who might like this book:
Ultimately my 15-year-old daughter read it and enjoyed it. It was good to talk about what happened and the attitudes of women and men. We also talked about the romance/sex aspect; at which she informed me was not uncommon in Young Adult books. We both felt that it was appropriate for ages 14 and up but parents may want to talk to their kids about the violence, motivations, and portrayal of women.
This book definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy books that have a branches in both history and mysticism, you might enjoy it. There are two more in the series: Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart.