Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly 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?
Hardcover, 549 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Sync : Free Promotional Download
Four and a half stars: An exciting and stunning tale of treachery, death and love.
Ismae is terrified as she faces her new husband on their wedding day. Her father sold her to a pig market, glad to be finally rid of her. Once the pig farmer sees Ismae's scarred back he roars in anger and strikes her. After a severe beating, she is saved by an unlikely benefactor. Ismae is whisked away to a secret convent, but this convent is a bit different. The sisters do not serve God, but instead they are the angels of death, serving St. Mortain, the god of Death. Ismae quickly adapts to her new life, learning of poisons, weapons and the best way to deliver death to those marked by Mortain. Ismae on her second assignment, ends up headed to the high court of Brittany accompanied by Duval, the brother to the soon to be crowned Duchess. Once at court, Ismae is thrown into a nest of traitors, and she must determine who is out to betray the Duchess. Can Ismae save the Duchess?
What I Liked:
- I will admit that I was hesitant to read this book. Not because it received bad reviews or anything, but because it was a regular bloggy slut. This book was everywhere in the winter of 2012. I cannot tell you how many reviews I read on blogs for this book. Everyone was raving about it, and now that I have finally taken the plunge, I can see why. This book definitely lives up to the hype, and it is a worthy read. I highly recommend you check out this book.
- I adore good historical books, and this was unlike anything I have read before when it comes to historical fiction. First, how cool is a nunnery with nuns trained to be deadly assassins? When was the last time you read a book with killer nuns? Second, I loved the history and danger revolving around the fate of Brittany and the Duchy. It was certainly a time of war and treachery. I liked how Ms. LaFevers blended the historical with the paranormal to provide one heck of a read. This book was certainly an informative and intriguing read.
- One thing that stood out for me was the dangerous and depressed circumstances that so many women lived under during this era. As a woman, you had little rights. Most were sold off in marriage to the highest bidder at a young age. There was nothing of romance or love involved. Perhaps you would get lucky, but most women served their husbands, bore numerous children and often died in childbirth and they took their beatings. If you were a noble woman you might fare a bit better, but it was still a hard life. Ms. LaFevers makes it perfectly clear how desperate many of the women in this time were. Don't forget to add in sickness and the fear of plague. The Duchess herself is nearing her thirteenth birthday and has the weight of the country on her small shoulders. Can you even imagine? This was an eye opening and educational read!
- Ismae was a character I grew to admire. She rises above her humble and dire circumstances and inadvertently becomes a major player in saving her country from a hostile French take over. She is dedicated to Mortain and, at first, follows the orders of the convent without question. However, she does not expect her heart to betray her and that is exactly what happens. Soon she is forced to make some agonizing decisions. Does she go through with her orders of death, even though her heart tells her it is wrong? Are the nuns of St. Mortain infallible in doling out death? I loved watching her struggle with new found knowledge, fall in love and question her beliefs. By the end, she is a strong and capable woman who can make her own decisions and stand on her own two feet.
- The romance is just perfect. It is my favorite kind of romance. It is one that starts out antagonistic as two people with different motives are thrown together for a common cause. As they learn to work together, sparks begin to flicker, but there is much wavering. This is a slow burning romance that takes it nice and slow. It doesn't ignite until the final portion of the book, and when it does it is sweet and believable and just right.
- I liked that everything, for the most part, draws to a neat conclusion and you are left satisfied with the end. No cliffhangers or frustrating unanswered questions!
- I had the pleasure of listening to this on audio thanks to the good folks at SYNC. I would highly recommend you do the audio version if you get a chance. The narrator does a phenomenal job with all the characters' voices. I didn't even mind her male impersonations. I liked the amount of emotion she fuses into her voice. I appreciated that she pronounces all the French names and terms with a French accent. Very well done!
And The Not So Much:
- This is a complicated book with a complex plot. There are so many characters coming and going, plotting to steal the Duchy. It gets a bit overwhelming at times, especially when you are listening to it because there are so many French names that start with the letter D in it, that I had a hard time keeping track of everything. This is a read that you need to devote proper time and attention to in order to take everything in. I will likely revisit this one in the future in printed form so I can capture details I missed the first time.
- The pace can be a bit cumbersome at times. I was drawn in at the beginning because was fascinated with St. Mortain and the nuns of death. Once the story shifts to Brittany, I felt like the book lost a bit of its momentum. It does pick up again as Ismae begins to burrow in at court and uncover treachery. You just have to be patient with it.
- There were two story lines that seemed to be hanging and they never felt tied in. One was the plot involving Sybella. She is another girl rescued and brought to the convent. She is wild and rebellious and it takes everything Ismae and the nuns have to convince her to become one of them. Then she disappears on an assignment, but Ismae is worrying about her all the time, and then she does make a couple of appearances, but they are quick and not detailed. I thought she was going to be a major player, but she is not. The same goes for Beast. He is a battle scarred warrior with a kind heart. I immediately was drawn to him and was expecting him to have a big part, but again, he doesn't. At the end, there is a major development regarding him and his fate his left hanging. I was a bit disappointed until I learned that the second book, Dark Triumph, focuses on Beast and Sybella. I cannot wait to see how things play out with both these characters.
Grave Mercy is an excellent book that certainly deserves all the praise and attention that it received. It is a meticulously researched book with plenty of historical detail. I loved the bit of paranormal and the inclusion of the assassin nuns. If you have been on the fence about reading this book, I would recommend getting off that fence and getting yourself a copy. This is a stunning book, and I am just sorry that I didn't read it sooner!
I received a free audiobook courtesy of Sync as part of the Summer 2013 promotions. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own.