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Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Series #1)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

38 out of 40 people found this review helpful.

While GRAVE MERCY is categorized as YA, it has one foot in the a

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 romanc...
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.

posted by Bonnie_W on March 29, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

It was rough.

The synopsis had me interested. Assassin nuns? It sounded pretty cool. Sadly it turned out to be more of a mystery/ romance than an action packed book about assassins. Plus, i really, and i mean REALLY, had to fight to get past the first 200 pages. It was really slow an...
The synopsis had me interested. Assassin nuns? It sounded pretty cool. Sadly it turned out to be more of a mystery/ romance than an action packed book about assassins. Plus, i really, and i mean REALLY, had to fight to get past the first 200 pages. It was really slow and boring. However, i trudged on because i wanted to find out what would become of the duchess and who the traitor was. I must admit that the last 80-100 pages were way more exciting than the first 3/4 of the book. Which is why i gave it two stars. The ending was rather quick and rushed, and seemed as though it wasnt very well planned or thought through. Overall its mostly boring with a little excitement in the end and an underwhelming ending.

posted by roniVT on May 15, 2013

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  • Posted April 22, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Filled with intrigue, murder, and more than a few shady characters

    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

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 12, 2014

    Loved it!

    Loved it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2013

    Killer Nuns?? Woo Hoo...

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2012

    Excellent!

    Great book cannot wait to read the next one!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Advanced Reader Copy Review This book was one of my most anticip

    Advanced Reader Copy Review
    This book was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I have been getting more and more into historical fictions lately, and this Young Adult book fit the bill wonderfully. It wasn’t heavy with many characters with strange names that I couldn’t remember, that’s where historical and fantasy books usually go wrong for me. If I can’t differentiate between the characters, I can’t enjoy the book. Grave Mercy set everyone apart and in such wonderful ways.

    This is a pretty long book at over 500 pages when you are used to the 300 page young adult reads, but the pages are worth it. It leaves to a deeper storyline and characters that have time to grow. The main character, Ismae, grows from the beaten wife to a powerful assassin following orders, and then into the assassin that thinks for herself and chooses her own path. The budding romance is such a treat throughout the story, building up with just the right amount of tension. It’s a great journey to go on with Ismae, to see her piece together herself along with the world she lives in and the lies and truths hidden all around her.

    Reviewed by Jessica for Book Sake.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 23, 2014

    Let¿s get one thing straight: I¿m not the biggest fan of histori

    Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not the biggest fan of historical fiction. Yeah, I love me a few classics, but mostly I’m just not that interested in historical fiction. That doesn’t mean I don’t love historical fantasy. I had the idea that His Fair Assassin series held a bit more fantasy in it, but the fantasy part wasn’t that big. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Grave Mercy, quite the opposite: I enjoyed this book a ton! 

    “When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.”

    Pg. 21 already managed to surprise me, so you could say that it was good start. I like how we got knowledge of what is taught in the convent, but don’t spend too much details and time on it. The chapters are very short (about 10 pages) and there’s relatively big spacing between lines so it all reads very quickly. (That’s why the second book seems so much smaller when you compare the hardcovers, but nope! It’s not since the spacing & font in Dark Triumph are way smaller.)

    Ismae, even as a novice, is extremely kick-a! I loved how she went from a loyal follower to a young woman who realized that there are different interpretations to things and not everything is black and white. Her growth was pretty awesome. Duval :) Le sigh. He’s just too adorable for his own good. These two dislike each other thoroughly at first. One of my favorite romance types! We have this cliché scene where she comes down the stairs and he forgets to speak since he’s too busy staring at her. 

    Don’t mind me at all drooling over the pages. Ha. Yeah, this cliché scene totally got to me lol. The side characters, especially the main characters for the two companions in this series, are absolutely wonderful and very different from Ismae which I appreciated a lot. 

    The world is made of awesomeness and the learning experience until becoming a full-time assassin is well-written. It’s not overbearing, nor underwhelming. Later references to Ismae’s novice age more than make up for glossing over some information and make the story, plot and pace wise, even better. The writing is very simple for a historical fantasy book, but it really helps with the pacing, especially since the chapters are so short. During the middle part of the book the pacing and the plot slow down thanks to lots of scheming and plotting, so the power plays and politics may be a tad overwhelming if you’re not into those. The mystery was wonderful and kept me on my toes throughout the entire book. 

    I’m extremely excited about reading the next novels and discovering the world even more thoroughly. There are lots of questions in my head that are waiting to be answered and I cannot wait to find out more, plus, Beast will be one of the main characters in The Dark Triumph, whoop! This, my lovely friends, I’m very excited about :) Read this gorgeous thing with Jasprit & Tanja and it was so fun to discuss all the scheming and twists so thoroughly. Can’t wait to dive back into this world! 

    Overall rating: 4.3 out of 5.0

    Originally published on my blog @ Little Pieces of Imagination

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  • Posted June 20, 2014

    This book has so many characters.  I loved that, but I also had

    This book has so many characters.  I loved that, but I also had to write every ones name and "station" down so I didn't have to flip back to the front all the time.  It's harder to flip to the front on a Kindle book than a paper book.




    Ismae is such a fantastic character.  The beginning of this book shows us just how retched Ismae's life was before she was sent to the convent.  This is no ordinary  convent though.  This is a training facility for assassins.   I thought that was awesome....who would have thought to use the convent as a cover for training assassins.  hehe.  It was great.




    Ismae is the daughter of Mortain - The God of Death.  She is trained to take those out who death marks with out hesitation.  She is good at it also :).




    Ismae is sent with Gavrial Duval to protect the Duchess, and report back to the convent about Duvals actions.  She soon finds out that Duval is one of the good guys.  




    Duval and Ismae develop a great relationship.  There is scheming and cunning going on where the Dutchess is concerned.  She has been promised to several suitors, and Duval is intent on keeping her safe from one suitor in particular.  Count d'Albret.  Seriously, this man is vile.  V.I.L.E.  




    There is so much going on in this book.  There is deceit, betrayal, cunning, and romance.  Yup, romance.  Duval and Ismae's story comes along in the book, and I love that it was not an insta love.  I enjoyed that it took time for Ismae to trust, and to open her heart to someone.  She has had a hard life, and she deserves to have something good happen to her.




    I don't want to give anything away, but the bad guy, again surprised me.  I am just going to assume that the "good" guy is the "bad" guy from now on...hehehe  Obviously my observation skills while reading are not very good.  OR, the author does a fantastic job of hiding the villain.  Ya, lets go with that :).  Actually, I really did not expect the bad guy to be who it was.  I LOVE it when I  cannot figure it out.  




    I think the author did a great job of putting me "in" this book.  The word building was fantastic.  I felt like I was following Ismae's journey right along with her.  I could feel her emotions, and her struggle with what she is commanded to do, and what she felt in her heart was the right thing to do.  I felt invested in the characters.  The struggles they go through to protect their friends and family.  I love the loyalty that is shown in this book.




    I cannot wait to read the next book.  This book was exciting, and fabulous. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2014

    recommended plus

    Intriguing plot. This reads well to place you back a few centuries - and the tale cangive you second thoughts about the pleasures of ancient France!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2014

    Great book

    This late middle agges early renasonce book is set with a romantic back drop. It is about brittany and there dutchass it is bassed on reality with a fantice twist to it. There are so many twist and turns to is that it is almost imposible to put down

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    Gravemercy

    This was weird but good

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2014

    Anyone wanna chat

    14 and single monica

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  • Posted December 25, 2013

    When I first read the summary I knew this book was a must-read.

    When I first read the summary I knew this book was a must-read. A young girl who escapes her brutal upbringing and an arranged marriage, trained to be an assassin at a nun convent? UM, YES! Oh, did I mention it's set in 15th century France?


    I'm always nervous about historical fantasy fiction because some authors get so caught up in their describing and world-building that they lose me. This book didn't do that. I felt I understood enough and was able to still feel immersed in the book with no problem. The pacing went fine for me and I didn't think the political aspect was too irritating, but rather fascinating.


    Ismae is our female protagonist and we are introduced to a girl who has been hardened by a rough childhood. Her future is not boding well either as her husband-to-be is a worthless scrap of a man. Lucky for her, fate intervenes in the form of priest, who takes her away to a convent. Ismae is special though. She is the daughter of St. Mortain, the patron saint of death. She is trained by the other nuns to be an assassin, killing those who bear the mark of death.


    I loved Ismae's character. She does not let her past turn her into someone to be pitied. She is proud, but has also learned to rely on no one but herself. She truly believes in her work as an assassin and serving Mortain, therefore she does not question her duties.


    She is sent to work with (and keep tabs on) the nobleman Duval, who is sarcastic, proud and quite irritated that he is forced to work with her. However, he is still quite the gentleman and is civil to her. Even though Duval has a proud exterior, I loved seeing the beginning glimpses of kindness and vulnerability that he shows to Ismae.


    Even though you knew they would inevitably fall for each other, their romance is slow-building and believeable. Theirs is based on trust and I love that Ismae didn't hold back when he confronted on her certain issues. (I hate when females make it worse by not just admitting their issues)


    Duval's loyalty to his half-sister Anne, the duchess of Brittany, is also wonderful to read about. Ismae also becomes close to her and is held in high esteem, despite her common upbringing.


    Ismae does change throughout the story and it is fun to watch. She has been trained to follow orders without question. However, by being around Duval and her new surroundings, she begins to question that and starts to follow her heart. She realizes that she doesn't have to just kill without mercy, but she can also use her gift to bring peace as well. She realizes the convent is just an institution, and that she lives to serve St. Mortain.


    I'm big into characterization and I really think LaFevers did a great job. Looking forward to the next book!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2013

    Better than I thought it would be

    Normally I don't enjoy reading books that take place in an older time period. Usually because of the way women thought and were treated, but this is nothing like that. Ismae is a strong heroine who is prepared for a fight. This book is definitely worth reading if you want an awesome female protagonist.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    I liked it and I'm currently waiting for book 2!

    I liked it and I'm currently waiting for book 2!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2013

    Lots of mystery and suspense

    This book has a little it of everything: mystery, magic, romance, treachery...it was all around entertainment. It did a good job not giving things away to easily and building up all the revelations. I found it very unique in the story it told, the women of that time and world and their roles. They had very little choice and were mainly pawns in a game made and dominated by men. So the convent and the power and small freedom it brought could be very powerful. It gave the girls like Ismae and Sybelle a way to take back the power they lost...but as Ismae finds out...they can becomes pawns again just as quickly.

    I liked the romance between Ismae and Duvall..it was slow building and believable. I liked the building mystery of sybelle and look forward to getting more answers in the next book as to her mission and role. I find her much darker than idealistic and somewhat naive ismae...despite her being a killer. Excited for the next book.

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  • Posted May 13, 2013

    This is a world that the author animatedly brings to life, with

    This is a world that the author animatedly brings to life, with vibrant characters, a detailed world, and a solid plot-line. Ismae is a
     strong character, not prone to trust easily (and with good reason), and has no issue seeing the fall of man (again, with good reason).
     This is a world where women are property--animate objects with no rights--and Ismae is given the opportunity to take control of her life.
     She also learns to control her life, and never uses death as a weapon or to avenge the wrongs done to her.

    The plot is full of royal intrigue and deception and betrayal and lust for power. And while Ismae believes the convent's every word is
    gospel, there is a man, Duvall, who makes her question those in authority. He makes her question the direction of her life. And once
    again, Ismae takes control of her own life.

    It's a good thing.

    What the novel lacked, for me, was some kind of spark. It's weird, as much as I loved the concept and the writing and the story,
     there are others I like more. While I felt Ismae's drive for control and change, and I didn't quite feel her desire for Duvall. And I knew
    all along who the betrayer to the royal family was. 

    Despite this, I would highly recommend.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 12, 2013

    Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilog

    Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy) is another book that had me from "Hello" - or rather from the moment I first laid eyes on the cover!  What a gorgeous cover that all but shows a strong character during a time when men have characteristically been the ones to fight a battle.  Anyway, the cover is just the beginning of a very beautifully told intriguing and historic story of politics, love and death. 

    Author, Robin LaFevers, does a remarkable job giving the reader very detailed descriptions of not only the characters but the locations and political climate throughout the novel.  Grave Mercy has it all: love, murder, poison, honor, suspense and death.  

    Our main character, Ismae, joins the convent of Saint Mortain (Saint of Death) after her situation turns hopeless.  Once at the convent she is trained to become an assassin - true Daughter of Death.  Ismae's next assignment seems straight forward, kill the traitor at court and protect the Duchess of Brittany, but this assignment turns out to have a fair amount of gray area, lots of politics and a possible love interest. 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I absolutely love reading a book blurb and thinking, "I hav

    I absolutely love reading a book blurb and thinking, "I have never read anything remotely similar to this".

    That's exactly what crossed through my mind when I read the synopsis for Grave Mercy. There weren't a lot of reviews associated with the book, but I saw that it was repeatedly recommended by other authors I love so I figured I would give it a try.

    I couldn't be happier. Grave Mercy is an action packed novel that rarely stops to breathe and had me hooked by the end of the first chapter.

    The book follows Ismae, a seventeen year old novice living in a convent of trained nun assassins.

    Yes, you read that correctly.

    After being sold off into marriage at 14 by her heartless father, Ismae escapes to a convent off the coast of Brittany, where she learns that her real father is actually Mortaine, the god of death. Blessed with special powers, Ismae begins her training to fulfill her duty as a handmaiden of death.

    After three years of being trained in the arts of combat and killing (she excels in the poison department), Ismae is sent outside of the convent on her first big assignment. She must infiltrate the court of Anne, Duchess of Brittany, find out who Anne's enemies are, and dispatch them. But Anne's court is a nest of vipers, and any one of them could be a spy for France, including Duval, Anne's half-brother and the man Ismae is slowly losing her heart to.


    The book sets fictional characters like Ismae and her convent co-conspirators smack dab in the middle of real life historical figures and events and does so with an air of authenticity that helps to build a world that is both intriguing as well as believable. It's clear that author Robin LaFevers did her research and the result is a seamless integration of reality and fantasy.

    I very highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys exceptionally strong female characters, historical fiction with just a dash of paranormal influence, and romance that doesn't overpower the story.

    I'm looking forward to the sequel Dark Triumph.

    I give Grave Mercy four out of five stars.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Have Mercy I absolutely love reading a book blurb and thinking,

    Have Mercy

    I absolutely love reading a book blurb and thinking, "I have never read anything remotely similar to this".

    That's exactly what crossed through my mind when I read the synopsis for Grave Mercy. There weren't a lot of reviews associated with the book, but I saw that it was repeatedly recommended by other authors I love so I figured I would give it a try.

    I couldn't be happier. Grave Mercy is an action packed novel that rarely stops to breathe and had me hooked by the end of the first chapter.

    The book follows Ismae, a seventeen year old novice living in a convent of trained nun assassins.

    Yes, you read that correctly.

    After being sold off into marriage at 14 by her heartless father, Ismae escapes to a convent off the coast of Brittany, where she learns that her real father is actually Mortaine, the god of death. Blessed with special powers, Ismae begins her training to fulfill her duty as a handmaiden of death.

    After three years of being trained in the arts of combat and killing (she excels in the poison department), Ismae is sent outside of the convent on her first big assignment. She must infiltrate the court of Anne, Duchess of Brittany, find out who Anne's enemies are, and dispatch them. But Anne's court is a nest of vipers, and any one of them could be a spy for France, including Duval, Anne's half-brother and the man Ismae is slowly losing her heart to.


    The book sets fictional characters like Ismae and her convent co-conspirators smack dab in the middle of real life historical figures and events and does so with an air of authenticity that helps to build a world that is both intriguing as well as believable. It's clear that author Robin LaFevers did her research and the result is a seamless integration of reality and fantasy.

    I very highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys exceptionally strong female characters, historical fiction with just a dash of paranormal influence, and steamy romances that don't overpower the story.

    I'm looking forward to the sequel Dark Triumph.

    I give Grave Mercy four out of five stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2013

    Grave mercy

    This book is BOMB!!

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