by Robin LaFevers
Rating: 3 1/2 stars
‘Young, beautiful and deadly. Trained as an assassin by the god of Death, Ismae is sent to the court of Brittany, where she finds herself under prepared – not only for the games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart? This is a dangerous romance full of intrigue, poison and ultimately finding one’s way…’
And now for something completely different….a book review! Yes, at last my event reviews are over (apart from my conference report for locating Fantastika, as I need a little more time to get my thoughts together to do it justice) and I’m back to the books.
This one’s been all over the blogs – as has the second and the third in the series – so I’m a little late to the party. It’s another library book, snagged from the Harris’ YA section. I was looking for an easy, fun read and that was what I got. Assassin nuns with a side order of interesting world building and courtly intrigue. For all that this is quite chunky – 549 pages – it really doesn’t feel that and I got through it in a couple of evenings.
I loved the world of Ismae’s story. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Brittany before, and certainly not one in this time period. It was very interesting to see a small country – especially one with a young female ruler – fighting to retain it’s independence. I have been to Brittany myself and even now it retains a specific sort of character that is purely its own. The inhabitants may be French, but they’re Bretons first.
The fantastical elements seem to slide very well into the intricacies of court life and the country as a whole. The lore of St Mortain was intriguing and Ismae’s own experience of negotiating her relationship to the saint works well. But I wanted to see this developed a bit more. Ismae’s change of tack towards the end of the book – turning towards the ‘Grave Mercy’ of the title – was really interesting and I wanted to see it come about a bit more slowly, rather than just being dropped in at the end. We could have had a bit more of this and a bit less of fretting about her relationship with Duval.
I was a bit iffy about the whole Ismae/Duval aspect, sometimes it was a good part of the book – mainly when they were actually trying to work together and unravel the plot – other times I wanted to bang their heads together. Speaking of The Plot, I did really enjoy the storyline. I loved Anne and I was really rooting for her, she’s more trapped than many of the other characters despite of all her finery and I was desperate for her to get some control over her own life. I liked watching the intrigue and complicated interactions between the Duke’s legitimate and illegitimate families. I even liked the ‘villain’ of the piece, whilst you could see them coming a mile away they had still had interesting and credible reasons for their actions.
I also really enjoyed the friendship between the three girls at the convent. I liked that Isame still strived to be a friend to the other girls from a distance, that Sybella tries to keep Ismae safe, that we got to see how their dynamic developed as they moved out into the world. I’ll definitely be picking the second book up, a lot of the reviews have Dark Triumph down as the best as the three, so I hope they continue to interact as the story rolls on. Grave Mercy falls down in a few places but it’s fun and it never pretends to be more than it is.