Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Series #1)

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Series #1)

4.4 274
by Robin LaFevers

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[set star] "Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion. . . . LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy. A page-turner—with grace."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review Seventeen-year-old Ismae

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[set star] "Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion. . . . LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy. A page-turner—with grace."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage to the respite of the convent of St. Mortain. Here she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts and a violent destiny. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. But how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who has stolen her heart?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A Kirkus  Best Teen Book of 2012 (star) "With characters that will inspire the imagination, a plot that nods to history while defying accuracy, and a love story that promises more in the second book, this is sure to attract feminist readers and romantics alike."—Booklist, starred review

(star) "Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion in 15th-century Brittany. ...LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy. A page-turner—with grace."—Kirkus, starred review (star) "Rich in historical detail, well-realized characters, political machinations, and enticingly prickly scenes between Ismae and Duval, LaFevers's complex tale incorporates magic both sparingly and subtly. This powerful first volume of the His Fair Assassin series should attract many readers."—Publishers Weekly, starred review (star) "The book is well written and filled with fascinating, complex characters who function realistically in this invented medieval world."—School Library Journal, starred review "Readers will immediately warm to Ismae's determination to think for herself despite the powerfl influences of multiple others."—Bulletin "LaFevers is an artful storyteller who has created a strong lead character....The tale is one of scheming nobles, political subterfuge, murder, and romance—all of the best aspects of a good read. And like any good mystery, the plot is unpredictable."—VOYA

Jessica Bruder
Despite Ismae's ugly past and her preoccupation with murder, Grave Mercy isn't heavy reading. It's darkly funny, a fantasy based on the rough contours of history, one that develops into an adventuresome…romance.
—The New York Times Book Review

When 17-year-old Ismae entered the convent at St. Mortain, it was less a chosen destination than an escape. Repulsed by the prospect of an arranged marriage, she entered the sanctuary, nor knowing that her decision to remain there comes with a condition: She must serve as the handmaiden of the God of Death and become an assassin. After she trains in the art of devious killing, she embarks on her first mission. Before long, she makes a discovery: Destroying another life is painful; destroying someone you love is almost impossible. The launch volume of a promising romantic action fantasy series.

Brian Monahan

Publishers Weekly
Middle-grade author LaFevers (the Theodosia books) makes an outstanding foray into historical romance with an enthralling recreation of 15th-century Brittany. At its center is 17-year-old Ismae, a badly scarred peasant girl who, fleeing her thuggish husband, is taken in by the convent of St. Mortain, whose patron saint is the ancient, pre-Christian god of death. Believed to be Death’s literal daughter, blessed (or cursed) with powerful gifts, Ismae is trained as an assassin, highly competent with all weapons and poisons. After two successful missions, she is dispatched to the court of Anne of Brittany to keep track of Duval, the duchess’s handsome and tempestuous illegitimate older brother. Reluctantly, she falls in love with him, knowing full well that she may someday be called upon to end his life. Rich in historical detail, well-realized characters, political machinations, and enticingly prickly scenes between Ismae and Duval, LaFevers’s complex tale incorporates magic both sparingly and subtly. This powerful first volume of the His Fair Assassin series should attract many readers. Ages 14–up. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Heather Kinard
Seventeen year old Ismae still bears the red scar that reaches from her left shoulder to her right hip. It is the only visible sign of the herbwitch's poison used at her birth when it was revealed her father was St. Mortain, the God of Death. She survived the poisoning, but lived a life of constant violence at the hands of those around her. Finally, after escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, Ismae finds acceptance with the sisters at the convent of St. Mortain. In her new life, she serves as a handmaiden to Death and is trained as an assassin to take the lives of those marked by the god himself. Ismae finds friendship and acceptance at the convent until an assignment takes her to the high court of Brittany where she must pose as mistress to the mysterious Gavriel Duval. The purpose of the mission is to protect Anne, the Duchess of Brittany. Duval, Anne's half-brother, appears to be her closest protector, but the convent is suspicious of him and asks Ismae to determine where his true loyalty lies. Ismae is prepared to act on orders from the convent, but she is not prepared for the romantic feelings she begins to have for Duval. Convinced that he is absolutely loyal to the Crown, Ismae is now faced with the possibility that the biggest threat is actually from those she trusts at the convent. Ismae also discovers that there is a time for redemption and forgiveness and that death is not always the answer. This book is full of history, intrigue and romance and is very well written. The characters are well-developed with strong males and females, but girls in particular will enjoy this book. Reviewer: Heather Kinard
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Ismae Rienne, born with an ugly red scar, is believed to have been sired by Death himself, and, when she escapes from her abusive husband on her wedding night, she finds refuge in the convent of St. Mortain where handmaidens are prepared to carry out Death's wishes. Trained in poisons, weaponry, and the wiles of seduction, she is sent off to prove herself by posing as the mistress of Gavriel Duval, a Breton working against the French so that his sister Anne can rightfully be crowned Duchess of Brittany. The political intrigue and resulting betrayals that the teen witnesses lead her to denounce the treasonous chancellor, save Duval from the traitor's poison, and realize that she wishes to follow the teachings of the convent, not as an assassin, but as one who frees suffering souls in their final moments. Though in love with Duval, she recognizes her own worth and vows to be faithful to her mission, living a life dedicated not to vengeance, but to mercy. This is a rich portrayal of the complexities of courtly life in 15th-century Brittany, featuring explicit details of costume and custom and showing how the lives of royalty and those who served them intertwined. The short, well-paced chapters will leave readers breathlessly waiting for more. Ismae and Duval are particularly well drawn, and the many twists and turns that influence their relationship are both fascinating and believable. While the story is sure to resonate with adolescents who are intrigued by vampires, werewolves, and their cultures of death, the violence, the sexual references (including the description of Ismae and Duval's first sexual encounter), and the idea of training servants for Death are for older readers. The book is well written and filled with fascinating, complex characters who function realistically in this invented medieval world.—Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, The Naples Players, FL

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
His Fair Assassin Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)
850L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Brittany 1485

I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I have been sired by the god of death himself.

I am told my father flew into a rage and raised his hand to my mother even as she lay weak and bleeding on the birthing bed. Until the herbwitch pointed out to him that if my mother had lain with the god of death, surely He would not stand idly by while my father beat her.

I risk a glance up at my husband-to-be, Guillo, and wonder if my father has told him of my lineage. I am guessing not, for who would pay three silver coins for what I am? Besides, Guillo looks far too placid to know of my true nature. If my father has tricked him, it will not bode well for our union. That we are being married in Guillo’s cottage rather than a church further adds to my unease.

I feel my father’s heavy gaze upon me and look up. The triumph in his eyes frightens me, for if he has triumphed, then I have surely lost in some way I do not yet understand. Even so, I smile, wanting to convince him I am happy—for there is nothing that upsets him more than my happiness.

But while I can easily lie to my father, it is harder to lie to myself. I am afraid, sorely afraid of this man to whom I will now belong. I look down at his big, wide hands. Just like my father, he has dirt caked under his fingernails and stains in the creases of his skin. Will the semblance end there? Or will he, too, wield those hands like a cudgel?

It is a new beginning, I remind myself, and in spite of all my trepidations, I cannot extinguish a tiny spark of hope. Guillo wants me enough to pay three silver coins. Surely where there is want, there is room for kindness? It is the one thing that keeps my knees from knocking and my hands from trembling. That and the priest who has come to officiate, for while he is naught but a hedge priest, the furtive glance he sends me over his prayer book causes me to believe he knows who and what I am.

As he mutters the ceremony’s final words, I stare at the rough hempen prayer cord with the nine wooden beads that proclaim him a follower of the old ways. Even when he ties the cord around our hands and lays the blessings of God and the nine old saints upon our union, I keep my gaze downcast, afraid to see the smugness in my father’s eyes or what my husband’s face might reveal.

When the priest is done, he pads away on dirty feet, his rough leather sandals flapping noisily. He does not even pause long enough to raise a tankard to our union. Nor does my father. Before the dust from my father’s departing cart has settled, my new husband swats my rump and grunts toward the upstairs loft.

I clench my fists to hide their trembling and cross to the rickety stairs. While Guillo fortifies himself with one last tankard of ale, I climb up to the loft and to the bed I will now share with him. I sorely miss my mother, for even though she was afraid of me, surely she would have given me a woman’s counsel on my wedding night. But both she and my sister fled long ago, one back into the arms of death, and the other into the arms of a passing tinker.

I know, of course, what goes on between a man and a woman. Our cottage is small and my father loud. There was many a night when urgent movement accompanied by groans filled our dark cottage. The next day my father always looked slightly less bad tempered, and my mother more so. I try to convince myself that no matter how distasteful the marriage bed is, surely it cannot be any worse than my father’s raw temper and meaty fists.

The loft is a close, musty place that smells as if the rough shutters on the far wall have never been opened. A timber-and-rope bed frame holds a mattress of straw. Other than that, there are only a few pegs to hang clothes on and a plain chest at the foot of the bed.

I sit on the edge of the chest and wait. It does not take long. A heavy creak from the stairs warns me that Guillo is on his way. My mouth turns dry and my stomach sour. Not wanting to give him the advantage of height, I stand.

When he reaches the room, I finally force myself to look at his face. His piggish eyes gorge themselves on my body, going from the top of my head down to my ankles, then back up to my breasts. My father’s insistence on lacing my gown so tight has worked, as Guillo can look at little else. He gestures with his tankard toward my bodice, slopping ale over the sides so that it dribbles to the floor. "Remove it." Desire thickens his voice.

I stare at the wall behind him, my fingers trembling as I raise them to my laces. But not fast enough. Never fast enough. He takes three giant strides toward me and strikes me hard across the cheek. "Now!" he roars as my head snaps back.

Bile rises in my throat and I fear I will be sick. So this is how it will be between us. This is why he was willing to pay three silver coins.

My laces are finally undone, and I remove my bodice so that I stand before him in my skirt and shift. The stale air, which only moments before was too warm, is now cold as it presses against my skin.

"Your skirt," he barks, breathing heavily.

I untie the strings and step out of my skirt. As I turn to lay it on the nearby bench, Guillo reaches for me. He is surprisingly quick for one so large and stupid, but I am quicker. I have had long years of practice escaping my father’s rages.

I jerk away, spinning out of his reach, infuriating him. In truth, I give no thought to where I will run, wishing only to hold off the inevitable a little longer.

There is a loud crash as his half-empty tankard hits the wall behind me, sending a shower of ale into the room. He snarls and lunges, but something inside me will not—cannot—make this easy for him. I leap out of his reach.

But not far enough. I feel a tug, then hear a rip of cloth as he tears my thin, worn chemise.

Silence fills the loft—a silence so thick with shock that even his coarse breathing has stopped. I feel his eyes rake down my back, take in the ugly red welts and scars the poison left behind. I look over my shoulder to see his face has gone white as new cheese, his eyes wide. When our glances meet, he knows—knows—that he has been duped. He bellows then, a long, deep note of rage that holds equal parts fury and fear.

Then his rough hand cracks against my skull and sends me to my knees. The pain of hope dying is worse than his fists and boots.

When Guillo’s rage is spent, he reaches down and grabs me by the hair. "I will go for a real priest this time. He will burn you or drown you. Maybe both." He drags me down the steps, my knees bumping painfully against each one. He continues dragging me through the kitchen, then shoves me into a small root cellar, slams the door, and locks it.

Bruised and possibly broken, I lie on the floor with my battered cheek pressed into the cool dirt. Unable to stop myself, I smile.

I have avoided the fate my father had planned for me. Surely it is I who have won, not he.

The sound of the bolt lifting jerks me awake. I shove myself to a sitting position and clutch the tattered remains of my chemise around me. When the door opens, I am stunned to see the hedge priest, the same small rabbit of a man who’d blessed our marriage only hours before. Guillo is not with him, and any moment that does not contain my father or Guillo is a happy one by my reckoning.

The priest looks over his shoulder, then motions for me to follow.

I rise to my feet, and the root cellar spins dizzily. I put a hand to the wall and wait for the feeling to pass. The priest motions again, more urgently. "We’ve not much time before he returns."

His words clear my head as nothing else can. If he is acting without Guillo’s knowledge, then he is most assuredly helping me. "I’m coming." I push away from the wall, step carefully over a sack of onions, and follow the hedge priest into the kitchen. It is dark; the only light comes from the banked embers in the hearth. I should wonder how the priest found me, why he is helping me, but I do not care. All I can think is that he is not Guillo and not my father. The rest does not matter.

He leads me to the back door, and in a day full of surprises, I find one more as I recognize the old herbwitch from our village hovering nearby. If I did not need to concentrate so hard on putting one foot in front of the other, I would ask her what she is doing here, but it is all I can do to stay upright and keep from falling on my face in the dirt.

As I step into the night, a sigh of relief escapes me. It is dark out, and darkness has always been my friend. A cart waits nearby. Touching me as little as possible, the hedge priest helps me into the back of it before hurrying around to the driver’s bench and climbing in. The priest glances over his shoulder at me, then averts his eyes as if he’s been burned. "There’s a blanket back there," he mutters as he steers the nag out onto the cobbled lane. "Cover yourself."

The unyielding wood of the cart presses painfully into my bruised bones, and the meager blanket scratches and reeks of donkey. Even so, I wish they’d brought a second one for padding. "Where are you taking me?"

"To the boat."

A boat means water, and crossing water means I will be far from the reach of my father and Guillo and the Church. "And where is this boat taking me?" I ask, but the priest says nothing. Exhaustion overwhelms me. I do not have the strength; plucking answers from him is like pulling meager berries from a thorny bush. I lie down in the cart and give myself over to the horse’s jolting gait.

And so my journey across Brittany begins. I am smuggled like some forbidden cargo, hidden among turnips or in hay in the back of carts, awakened by furtive voices and fumbling hands as I am passed from hedge priest to herbwife, a hidden chain of those who live in accordance with the old saints and are determined to keep me from the Church. The hedge priests, with their awkward movements and musty, stale robes, are kind enough, but their fingers are unschooled in tenderness or compassion. It is the herbwitches I like most;, their chapped, raw hands are gentle as lamb’s wool, and the sharp, pungent smell of a hundred different herbs clings to them like a fragrant shadow. Often as not, they give me a tincture of poppy for my injuries, while the priests merely give me their sympathy, and some begrudgingly at that.

When I awake on what I reckon to be the fifth night of my journey, I smell the salty tang of the sea and remember the promise of a boat. I struggle to sit up, pleased to find my bruises pain me less and my ribs do not burn. We are passing through a small fishing village. I pull the blanket close against the chill and wonder what will happen next.

At the very edge of the village sits a stone church. It is to this that the latest hedge priest steers our cart and I am relieved to see the door bears the sacred anchor of Saint Mer, one of the old saints. The priest reins his horse to a stop. "Get out."

I cannot tell if it is fatigue or disdain I hear in his voice, but either way, my journey is almost done, so I ignore it and clamber out of the cart, keeping the blanket clutched tight around me lest I offend his modesty.

Once he secures the horse, he leads me toward the beach, where a lone boat waits. The inky black ocean spreads out as far and wide as my eye can see, making the vessel seem very small.

An old sailor sits hunched in the prow. A shell bleached white as bone hangs from a cord at his neck, marking him as a worshiper of Saint Mer. I wonder what he thinks of being woken in the middle of the night and made to row strangers out into the dark sea.

The sailor’s faded blue eyes skim over me. He nods. "Climb in. We en’t got all night." He thrusts an oar at me, and I grasp it to steady myself as I get into the boat.

The small vessel dips and rocks and for a moment I am afraid it will tip me into the icy water. But it rights itself and then the priest steps in, causing the hull to sink even lower.

The old sailor grunts, then returns the oar to its pin and begins rowing.

We reach the small island just as dawn pinkens the eastern horizon. It looks barren in the early, spare light. As we draw closer, I see a standing stone next to a church and realize we’ve come to one of the old places of worship.

Gravel crunches under the hull of the boat as the old sailor rows right up onto the beach. He jerks his head toward the stone fortress. "Get out then. The abbess of St. Mortain be expectin’ ye."

Saint Mortain? The patron saint of death. A tremor of unease washes through me. I look at the priest, who averts his eyes, as if looking at me is too great a mortal temptation.

Clutching the blanket close around me, I climb awkwardly from the boat and step into the shallows. Torn between gratitude and annoyance, I curtsy slightly, careful to let the blanket slip from my shoulder for the merest of seconds.

I t is enough. Satisfied at the priest’s gasp and the old sailor’s cluck of his tongue, I turn and slog through the cold water to the beach. In truth, I have never flashed so much as an ankle before, but I am sorely vexed at being treated like a temptress when all I feel is bruised and broken.

When I reach the patchy grass that grows between the rocks, I look back toward the boat, but it has already put out to sea. I turn and begin making my way to the convent, eager to see what those who worship Death want of me.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
(star) "With characters that will inspire the imagination, a plot that nods to history while defying accuracy, and a love story that promises more in the second book, this is sure to attract feminist readers and romantics alike."—Booklist starred review

(star) "Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion in 15th-century Brittany. ...LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy. A page-turner—with grace."—Kirkus, starred review (star) "Rich in historical detail, well-realized characters, political machinations, and enticingly prickly scenes between Ismae and Duval, LaFevers's complex tale incorporates magic both sparingly and subtly. This powerful first volume of the His Fair Assassin series should attract many readers."—Publishers Weekly, starred review (star) "The book is well written and filled with fascinating, complex characters who function realistically in this invented medieval world."—School Library Journal, starred review "Readers will immediately warm to Ismae's determination to think for herself despite the powerfl influences of multiple others."—Bulletin "LaFevers is an artful storyteller who has created a strong lead character....The tale is one of scheming nobles, political subterfuge, murder, and romance—all of the best aspects of a good read. And like any good mystery, the plot is unpredictable."—VOYA

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Grave Mercy (Book I): His Fair Assassin, Book I 4.4 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 274 reviews.
Bonnie_W More than 1 year ago
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.
BurgandyIce More than 1 year ago
Ha! Ha HA!! What an exhilarating ride!!! This book pulls together some of my most favorite things, weaving a new story with new characters and depths. As I read, I felt growing satisfaction… that THIS is what I had always hoped for and didn't even know it. I loved so many things about this book. The concept is rich – Ismae (love the name!!) is rescued from abuse, smuggled across the country to a Convent fortress where she is trained in the arts of Killing. It’s like Cinderella + Graceling. What a fun combination! I don’t don't much about history, so the setting might as well been a new fantasy world, for all I knew (or cared). The French-sounding names were exotic and the politics felt exactly like a complicated chess game, (the author's intention). There is gritty reality behind the impossible choices, which I absolutely loved. So often, especially when big, multiple kingdoms are involved, the answer is obvious & predictable, so “impossible” was refreshingly frustrating. I thoroughly enjoyed the deities of Britain. Does anyone know if this is historical? There are 8 (9?) Gods transformed to “saints” to conform to the times. Mortain, the god of death, adds depth to the entire story. I was never certain how Ismae was literally conceived by him, but I love, LOVE the idea that she is a daughter of God. Absolutely. And that the Convent believes that only it – or specifically the Abbess – knows what Mortain wants, while the question is raised as to whether the Convent is above deception? Doubt is cast on the Convent, even while relationship with Mortain Himself is strengthened. Ismae is a fun character. I slipped inside her skin so effortlessly, so that I still feel rather dangerous with various weapons strapped in hiding spots up my sleeves and skirts. (Ha!) I thought for sure I would learn all the in’s & out’s of her training at the Convent – like Paksennarian or The Song of the Lioness series. Instead, the story dives right into Ismae’s assignments. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was wondering how complicated this story would get if we leapt right through so much excitement so fast. She is intelligent & brave (rather than fearless). I love getting her thoughts behind each action, and I love her fast reflexes!! Duval is also very fun. He has layers of reactions and motivations to figure out, while being at the same time, highly enticing. Suspicious and sexy at the same time!! I was right there with Ismae as she experienced new love (great budding romance!) while remaining true to her beliefs and her deep conviction to serve the God of Death. When traitors abound, everyone is suspect!! Many of the secondary characters had surprising depth. Duval’s closest friends keep revealing greater depths, the council surrounding the Duchess holds surprises, the Convent and the handmaidens of Death have lots of secrets that they don’t give up even by the end of the story. The Duchess & her sister felt shallow to me, but if I was in either of their shoes, I could only hope to be as brave & decisive as they were. I'd probably run away. Grave Mercy does not have a cliff-hanger ending, but it does leave loose ends – rather loud loose ends. I wondered how the author could sleep at night without resolving these. (Ha!) Until I noted what book 2 in the series will be about… and entire book devoted to at least two of those loose ends, which gives me hope for the third, too. (Ack!! I hate not spoiler-talking!) As I read, I kept thinking of similar books I love. The court scenes reminded me of Crown Duel, which I love! Sometimes I was reminded me of King Arthur or Robin Hood or somewhere in between ‘em (all the Britain stuff - either inner fighting or against France). I already mentioned Cinderella, Paksennarion and the Song of Lioness… not to mention Graceling. What if Katsa had a different motivation for doing her killing job? Hehehehe And yet, Grave Mercy is unique, too. Some of the best of all of 'em rolled into something new. Cover Commentary: Love it. I love the red dress, with the windblown wild look & the suspicious back glance… especially with the castle and storm clouds in the background. The crossbow makes the picture for me, although it seems a little large for the weapon she hid in her skirts. I suppose of they’d given her a wee little crossbow, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Lol. My Rating: 5 - LOVE IT!! I think this is one of my favorite books. I definitely want this book on my bookshelf collection to reread when the urge hits, ‘cause it definitely will! It may be 500+ pages long, but I couldn’t put it down!!
Annie_Reads More than 1 year ago
Despite the fact that I read a ton (like several books a week) I have never posted a review to B&N. Until now, that is. This book absolutely blew me away. I bought it because of the favorable editorial reviews, but wasn't expecting a lot. Turned out to be phenomenal, from top to bottom. The characters in this book are so well written and realistic, it is hard not to understand and love them from the outset. Ismae, the main character, is nuanced and strong. She has a mind of her own, enough to question the stories she has been told and carve out her own path while staying true to her beliefs. The romance added just the right touch- it was not the focus of the story, but it was really lovely to see blossom as the characters grew to trust one another. The only thing I wish is that the book had been even longer! Though I do believe it ended very well. I am excited to read more of the story when the sequels come out- though it seems they do not focus on Ismae, I hope we will still see her from time to time. Overall an excellent book I recommend not only to those who enjoy historical fiction, but really anyone who is looking for something new. You won't be disappointed!
Ozzy12 More than 1 year ago
The cover is awesome. The story had me hooked. Great Read!
majibookshelf More than 1 year ago
I am so in love with this book! I devoured this book in a day and couldn't put it down. Every single moment of the book had me hooked and even with how big the book is, I read every single word and LOVED IT! I know that some people were slightly disappointed that there wasn't much "assassinations" happening in the book and it was mostly political scheming and plotting, however i have a faint heart and I am so glad that even the killing scenes weren't graphic! Also I loved the political talk in the book and while some people did find it confusing, Robin had two pages at the beginning of the book of all the names and their positions so you wouldn't get too confused. I have to admit that I flipped back and forth several times, but I was never lost, in fact I was fascinated that Robin could create such a complicated and strong plot. The story is set in the late 1400s and revolves around Ismae, who you will know to be a handmaiden to Death. She escapes an cruel arranged marriage and is put in the St. Mortain convent and taught to be an assassin. Her targets come from the god of Death Himself through a marque on the victim. On Ismae's third mission, she ends up traveling with the mysterious Duval to the high courts of Brittany, where she needs to keep close watch for any traitors to Brittany. This is when the scheming, plotting, and political backstabbing starts, and oh I ate it all up! I am especially fond of plots with these themes because I find them to be suspenseful, exciting, and just original. You discover many shocking secrets and have to grip the edge of your seat while your heart is pounding 5 times faster trying to read as fast as you can to find out just what happens next. I loved Ismae, she was smart, caught on to things pretty quickly, rational, and wasn't smitten with love the first chance she got to experience it. She began to question her knowledge of her covenant and her teachings at the right times so I didn't have to pull my hair and start one of my yelling sessions, good thing since i was reading it in the middle of the night and didn't want to wake anyone up! As for the romance in the book, I feel that this was what softened Ismae's heart and caused her to question her beliefs and heal some of her emotional scars. Duval was such a gentleman and I loved how loyal he was to his duties and how gentle he was with Ismae. To sum it up, I am totally in love with Grave Mercy and will be raving about it for a while until I get more people to read it and discuss it. Robin LaFevers delivered a strong debut, one that is going on my all time favorite books of 2012. The only downside to all of this is that now I have to wait a full year for the second book!
Falln2books More than 1 year ago
This book really surprised me. At first, I didn't know that it was set on the cusp of the High Middle Ages/Early Renaissance period. Once I found that out, I figured the book would bore me and that I wouldn't be able to connect to the character at all. However, I was wrong. Ismae has a terrible life until the people of the convent take her in. She is angry and bitter and ready to kill any man who dares to look at her, and the convent gives her the means and tools to do so. Over the course of the novel, though, she learns that life and death are both more complicated than she thought. Grave Mercy has strong characters, a captivating plot, and endless action. LaFevers will keep you guessing from the first page until the very last. The book starts out kind of slowly. It held my interest from page one, but the pages didn't start flying by until Ismae went to court. Then I could not put the book down. LaFevers holds true to the time period by having her characters speak properly. She goes through all of the rigid manners there, but somehow the dialogue doesn't fall flat. I thought the lack of contractions would bother me, but it didn't. She wasn't true to the dialogue of the region or the time period, thankfully, but she did hold true to the proper dialogue used in the higher echelons of society during the 1600s and beyond. I, for one, am glad that I didn't have to read a mixture of French and Gaelic, which was spoken in Bretagne at that time. There were some random French words throughout the narrative, but mainly just "merde," in place of obscenities, and "enchante," which I think everyone can translate. I didn't even notice the lack of contractions until the end of the book when I was like, "wow, that didn't bother me at all." Overall, I felt fully immersed in the time period, and because of LaFevers' wonderful world building, I could picture every place Ismae went, down to the types of clothes people were wearing. LaFevers doesn't overly explain things, she just gives enough description to get your imagination working, and I really liked that. She was very good at showing instead of telling, which you guys probably know by now is very important to me. The characters in this book were extremely well-developed, and I found myself attached to certain characters that I didn't even know I'd grown attached to until much later. Every single character, from Ismae, to the smallest secondary character, had a fully developed personality. And each character had his or her own quirks. No one was perfect, and no one was a cookie-cutter or stereotype. The characters added so much depth to this novel, and since I am a character person, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each and every character. My favorites were Ismae (of course), Duval, and Beast. Ismae was extremely complex, and even though I couldn't relate to her all the time (I've never wanted to be an assassin, haha), I could sympathize with her. I cared what happened to her, and I knew that she wasn't as cold-hearted as she wanted to be. It was fascinating to see how her character grew and changed over the course of this novel. The plot of this book was a bit complicated, but I was able to keep everything straight, which is a testament to what a good author LaFevers is. Court life, apparently, was extremely involved, and everyone was out to screw everyone else over. The pages flew by. I couldn't put the book down! I would recommend this
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing!It was a thrilling romance with some action(no too much!). The charecters are complex and the main charecter Ismae was espceiallycharming!I loved the romance and the love intrest duval was so sexy.
Shirley_Holmes More than 1 year ago
Originally posted on my blog: The Bibliophile's Corner I don’t think I have ever read a historical book about Brittany, but I definitely want to read more. The setting, the writing, honestly everything, was simply beautiful. The idea of assassin trained nuns is brilliant. Part of me wishes that this would have been an adult book so that the author could have gone into a bit more into this world of assassins. When it comes to characters, this book is well filled with fleshed out and people that I could imagine perfectly. First we have, Ismae. She is beautiful, strong, and has serious trust issues. I particularly loved how she developed in this book. It was almost painfully slow, but that’s why I loved it. She didn’t immediately morph into some completely different person, but gradually changed as she got closer to those around her. Duvall is a wonderful counterpart to Ismae. He too has serious trust issues, but then again, I would too if people kept trying to attack my little sister’s authority. From the beginning, I found myself a lot like Ismae. Weary of him, but at the same time just couldn’t connect this fiercely loyal man with a traitor. Not only did I find myself falling in love with his character, but also his best friends. Beast, a legend on the battlefield and de Lorney, a legend with the ladies. Both men were such good friends to Duvall and it was easy to see why the three of them fit each other so well. Another character who I love and can’t wait to read more of, is Sybella. She is another assassin and took quite a liking to Ismae when they met for the first time. It is clear from the beginning that Sybella is not mental stable. Whatever she suffered at the hand of her father and other men in her life, has literally driven her crazy. We only see her a couple of times in this book, but if I understand correctly, the second book in this series is about her. My absolute favorite part of this entire book is the believe and servitude to the god Mortain, or Death, as he popularly known as. I have always had a fascination with gods and goddesses of ancient times and I love this dedication that I see in Grave Mercy. While Death is always seen as someone to be feared, He is also someone who had mercy. That is something that Ismae comes to learn throughout this book. She also begins to notice that the convent is not exactly as trustworthy as she originally wanted to believe. Overall, this book is absolutely beautiful, brilliant, and must be read. Even if you are not a fan of YA, I highly encourage you to read it. First and foremost, this is a historical fiction novel. As I mentioned earlier, I do wish that it would have been more adult, but even as a book geared for teens, this is still a book that will leave you wanting more.
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never written a review before but this book was too good not to. I was skeptical at first but fell in love with it quickly. The characters where built well and the world they live in is beautiful and tragic. The author does not spare you the true cruelty of people in the world which made it that more heartwrenching and that more real to me. I must sincerely thank the author because while there is a bit of a love story the book does not drown in it. They do not start spouting sonnets and undying love after one day of meeting each other (thank god) and there is no love triangle! Can you believe it? I have read an unprecident amount of books in the last six months and most have just become a blur in my mind and honestly I do not care if I forget a lot of them for they are all the damn same or there is too much mushy love thing going on that I end up reading only half the book because I am skimming so much of it. So if you are like me and looking for something exciting, breathtaking, and new to read please pick this up for I promise you will enjoy it and everything I have said here applies to the second book as well, if not more so
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story, it was so very hard to put down. I can't wait for the next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader but I can say with confidence that this is the best, most touching and thrilling story I've ever read. Kf you have any taste in great literature, you will not be dissapointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book.....was one of the best books I have ever read!! Any book I read after this will have to be pretty amazing to top this!! I love how it ends, but it leaves me wanting more!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An amazing read!! Full of adventure, romance and pure excitment. It captured my full attention and had me feeling part of the story with all the magnificent detail. A must read. Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! it was so entertaining! The story is so unique and I thoroughly was surprised at some of the twists. I could not put it down, shame I have to wait a year for the next one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LOVED THIS BOOK! there were unexpected turns on every page. Stayed up late at night reading this one! it constantly kept me engrossed! this is a must have!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is something different from most. But in a good way loooooved the book and would recommend this bookbto everyone. Cant wait till the next one comes out!!!!!!:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a really good book. I found it hypnotzing and magnificient, in it's own way. It is original and nice to see in this day and age were anything that is like a soap opera and paranormal creatures makes a best seller list. I enjoyed this book, but word to the wise you have to stick with it and wait for it to get better. Because I garantee it will. I hope this was helpful, happy reading. :-D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book cannot wait to read the next one!
Anonymous 6 months ago
I love how she escapes a terrible life and runs away to find romance excitement and all sorts of other things that will help her to kill people who have betrayed the duchess he such an amazing job on this book
SecondRunReviews 9 months ago
A few years ago I visited The Red Balloon Bookshop, a fantastic independent bookstore in the Twin Cities that specializes in children's books. As I was wont to do (before the #ShelfLove Challenge), I wandered about the shelves in the young adult section and spied Grave Mercy on the shelves. It had a shelf tag with a brief review that mentioned assassin nuns. I did not buy Grave Mercy during that bookstore trip. However, the thought of assassin nuns never left me and I itched to buy the book each time I saw it. I did buy it, eventually, at Half Price Books and then it languished on my shelves. I was motivated to choose Grave Mercy from my bookshelf partly because of our #ShelfLove Challenge and partly because I was seeing a resurgence of the book on other review sites with the release of the latest book in the series. I felt It was high time I read the book that caught my attention just a couple of years ago. Set in France...excuse the late 1400s, Grave Mercy is fraught with mystery and political intrigue. I enjoyed Gavriel and Ismae. While they spend quite a bit of time together as they try to suss out who is an enemy of the state, they are also independent and strong characters on their own. There is perhaps a hint of romance that is not the focus of the book which I found refreshing when compared to other young adult novels. Ismae's search for the political truth and religious truth drives the book forward to its conclusion. The difficult part was understanding the political climate of the time. I referred to Wikipedia several times to learn more about Brittany and Duchess Anne. The list of characters at the front of book was helpful as well, but at times I did feel overwhelmed by lack of knowledge of the time period and the revolving game of Red Rover as true intentions were discovered. Being overwhelmed lead to a disappointing reveal as I tried to piece together who was a part of the deception. I did enjoy reading Grave Mercy. Ismae's devotion to her religion and mission and dedication to learning the truth provided an excellent basis for a story. At the end of the book I wanted to follow Ismae's religious journey further and was disappointed that book two and three in the series are about her fellow nuns, Sybella and Annith, and not Ismae.
Amy-T 9 months ago
To say that I have been feeling ANTICIPATION! for GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers over the past few months is an understatement of the EPIC variety. It's one of the books that I've been most looking forward to reading this year, and even though having all of that excitement and high expectations for a book is so much fun and one of the reasons that I LOVE having this blog and talking about books with all of you guys, it's also one of the sharpest double-edged swords I know. Because sometimes high expectations have nowhere else to go but down. BUT! HUZZAH! Not only did Robin LaFever's YA debut MEET my expectations, GRAVE MERCY stared my expectations down with MAJOR stink-eye and then blew them into tiny pieces. GRAVE MERCY, the first book in the His Fair Assassin series, is one of the best books I've read so far this year, and come December when I'm thinking of my favorite reads from 2012, this book will be on that list. WRITE IT DOWN. So, is GRAVE MERCY historical fiction or fantasy? Fantasy or historical fiction? Well in truth, I think--like so many other books in YA these days that cross genres--it's a little bit of both. To me, I think of it mostly as historical fiction because it takes place in our world, in the medieval time period, in a real place (Brittany, now a part of France, but in the 1300s an independent Duchy--historically accurate stuff), with real historical figures dealing with an actual historical issue/threat/bunch of political schemers (basically, France wants Brittany, Brittany says "oh no you di int" WITH finger snaps. Spying, scheming, and other shenanigans ensue). And that part of the story is gripping, fast-paced, twisty, and THE BOMB. Some of the best historical fiction that I've read in a long time. Author Robin LaFevers thinks so, too, and you can RESEARCH (YES!!!) more about it on her website. There are fantastical things about GRAVE MERCY as well, though, and those elements are BADASS too. The nuns in the order of St. Mortain serve one of the old gods of Brittany, Death, who marks them with special powers so that they might better serve him in killing those people who bear his mark. GUYS, ASSASSIN NUNS ARE AMAZING. They are a little cold, calculating, fervent, devoted, and incredibly skilled. Seriously. The convent takes in young, troubled girls who have been marked by Death, often rescuing them in the process from a life of poverty, crime, or as in the case of our main character, Ismae, abusive relationships. Literally NONE of this stuff is bad, guys. It's all incredibly enthralling, the history AND the fantasy. Of course, even though the setting and the history are fantastic, what really drives GRAVE MERCY are the characters, and how they interact with each other. So I don't just mean to say that Ismae ROCKS MY SOCKS because she's so brave, clever, strong, and FIERCE, or that if panties were snowmen, then Duval would be March (BOOM! I just New Girl-ed GRAVE MERCY). Even though both of those things--and more--are true. (Really, Duval is more than just a hot piece, you know? He's VERY intelligent, devoted, loyal, and protective, too. But, also steamy.) What Robin LaFevers gives us with these characters, though, is an environment that requires suspicion, backstabbing, secrets, underhandedness, and lies. True loyalty is hard-won, and honestly, nearly impossible in this fraught, tense political climate. The DRAMA is intense, and just…outstanding. I'm trying to keep the CAPSLOCK and the fangirling to a minimu
Anonymous 9 months ago
This story follows Ismae who is sold by her father at the age of fourteen to marry a disgusting pig farmer named Guillo. She is rescued and taken to the convent of St. Mortain where she chooses to serve Death and is taught all the skills an assassin may need. Three years later, she is ready to begin going on assignments. Her first big assignment is to pose as a mistress to Gavriel Duval who is the half brother to the duchess of Brittany. She is to keep an eye on him because the convent has reason to believe that he is up to no good. But among those closest to the duchess, Duval seems the least suspicious to Ismae. So they must try and figure out who the real traitor among them is. I really enjoyed the mysterious aspect of this book. Who is the traitor among them working for the French? It really kept me guessing and feeling unable to trust anyone and I loved it! I really enjoyed the characters in this book! Ismae is very dedicated to doing the work of Mortain. She doesn't question what the convent is telling her, believing them to know all. She thinks very little of men because all of the men in her life have been horrible to her. So she is not at all trusting of Duval when she is first assigned to tag along with him. But everything she learns while out with Duval makes her question what the convent has taught her about carrying out Mortain's will. Maybe it's not all about vengeance. She wants to believe that Mortain is also merciful. Duval also teaches her that not all men are completely awful like her father and Guillo. Duval is wonderful. He is kind, caring, smart, strategic, and just wonderful. He is dedicated to the duchess and to helping her get out of a totally gross arranged marriage and helping her come up with strategies to keep Brittany safe and free from France. He is just so very good. He's a bit of a grump as well. I never in a million years would have guess that Anne, the duchess, was only twelve years old during most of this book! That seems FAR too young to be having to worry about the well being of an entire country and avoiding gross old men who want to marry you for your throne! But I guess that things were far more different back in the day. She is a VERY strong young lady! The only character that I found to be truly unlikable was d'Albret or whatever his name was. Every other character, not matter how awful they were, I seemed to be able to find the tiniest sliver of good in them or in the motives behind their actions. But that man was just really and truly vile. He was only out to help himself at the expense of a little girl! What a CREEP! Also, Madame Dinan was pretty awful as well. You'd think she'd care a bit more for the well being of the girl she's been caring for for years. I guess not! I really enjoyed the note from the author at the end of the book explaining how this was all based on true events! It seemed that very few things were pulled out of thin air and I really liked that! I don't think I've read a whole lot of historical fiction in my life, but of them, this would by far have to be my favorite! So interesting! I liked how everything in this book wrapped up nicely so there’s no cliffhanger or anything, but I’m kinda disappointed that the other two books don’t follow Ismae and Duval! I want to know what other shenanigans they get up to! I feel like there’s so much more that could happen with them! This is the thing that makes me the most sad, but also I am excited to know what happens with the