Book Review: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Published: April 3, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher, via NetGalley
Sold off to a brutish husband, Ismae escapes and finds both salvation and purpose at the convent of St. Mortain. These nuns don't just do good works. They learn the art of death, and their saint--a god of old--sends them on his dark missions to destroy the enemies of Brittany.
For her first big assignment, Ismae is sent to the royal court, posing as the mistress of Duval, the Duchess's bastard half-brother. It's her job to execute the enemies of Brittany, but who exactly are they? Political machinations swirl around the young Duchess, Anne of Brittany, as she fights to keep her homeland free from the grasp of the encroaching French. In the midst of rumors, betrayal, and uncertainty, Ismae discovers that nobody she trusted has told her the truth. And the one person she's sure she shouldn't trust may be the only one she can.
Isame has spent years in fulfilling servitude at the convent. But now her god, her abbess, and her heart all want different things, and she's afraid it may be a fight to the death
This book has been lurking around in my head ever since I read it, mostly because it sits on that line between YA and adult fiction. True, the main character is in her late teens, but she's moving in a highly adult world of politics, betrayal, and morality, not to mention the unique historical setting. I was about a quarter of the way through this novel when I had to fire up Wikipedia and figure out who Anne of Brittany was and what exactly was going on. It's a bit of European history that I hadn't heard much about, which is a shame, because it's fascinating. As I read further in the book, it became clearer, and I think that a kid who's used to complicated fantasy politics might not mind. I can't speak to its strict historical accuracy, but then we're discussing a book with a nun/assassin who gets cues from the god of Death.
There's a real density about this book. Complex characters, convoluted plots, questions that remain unanswered; it's not beach reading. But Ismae, tough, prickly, strong, uncertain Ismae, kept me going, as well as her gradual and cautious romance with Duval, himself at least as dangerous as Ismae. If sexy stuff gets your goat, be warned, it is discussed and there's a fade-to-black scene. But I felt it worked in this context.
The dense historical detail and the dark touches make this unique book one you'll have to save for those kids (and adults!) that will appreciate it.