Title: Grave Mercy
Editor: Robin LaFevers
Source: bought at Rochester Teen Book Festival
Review Summary: This is one that’s almost too good to analyze. The main things that made me love it were the strength of the main character, the historical setting, and the fast paced action.
This is a book about assassin nuns and that’s probably all you need to know to guess how crazy awesome it’s going to be! However, for the sake of thoroughness… The book focuses on Ismae, a girl whose near death marked her as a servant of Mortain, the god of death. When she flees an arranged marriage, this means there is a place for her at Mortain’s convent where she will be trained as an assassin. To date, her life has only put her in contact with brutal, cruel men and she has no qualms agreeing to go on a mission that will include killing anyone Mortain marks for death. Her experience in the real world, however, quickly makes her realize that both men and Mortain’s orders are more complex than she thought.
I had the great pleasure of attending a discussion with Robin LaFevers at the Rochester Teen Book Festival this year. I hadn’t read Grave Mercy yet, but the conversation made me certain I wanted to. It was clear that the historical research she did for this book was just fantastic. Several large plot elements and characters are based on real historical events. Even the small details, from poisons to perfume ingredients, are well researched. I loved the richness of the setting in this book and I think that research had a lot to do with it.
The main character is impressive and unique. She’s not stereotypically attractive and she’s had some bad experiences, which allows for great character growth later in the book. Ismae becomes more confident in herself and learns that not all men are evil, without doing too much swooning over them either. She also has to make some very hard decisions. The theological questions about fate and the will of god were very interesting, leading to deeper moral questions that I love and usually expect more from sci fi than from fantasy.
This book swept me away. The setting, the main character, and the moral questions were all wrapped up in constant action that made it hard for me to even pause to take notes. The ending was suitably epic and even without a cliff hanger (which I didn’t miss!), I couldn’t wait to dive into the next book. If you like fantasy or historical fiction, you should definitely listen to the hype and pick up Grave Mercy.