Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is the first book in a new young adult series, His Fair Assassin. The main character is seventeen-year-old Ismea, who has been feared and shamed her entire life because of scars she bears from her mothers attempt to abort her. She escapes an arranged marriage and dedicates her life to the god, or saint, Mortain who rules death. The convent that takes her in and trains her requires complete obedience, but her skills and safety of the convent help Ismae grow and thrive. During her third assignment, she discovers that the outside world is much more complicated than she had ever imagined. She finds herself under prepared as she tries to protect the duchess, and the country, amid traitors and plots that seem to become even more tangled as she loses her heart to her partner, and potential target for death.
Let’s start with the obviously fantastic reason everyone is interested by this book, assassin nuns. It could not be anything other than awesome. Ismea is saved from being further beaten, and most likely killed, by the man her father sold her to as a wife by a local priests and hedge witch that follow the old ways. She is taught to kill, to serve a dark god or saint and to protect her country. She learns to obey, and in turn to question the orders and plots that are driving her hands in death. Ismea becomes a strong, smart woman. Her partnership with Duval is far from insta-love, and develops slowly and will the appropriate amount of doubt and mistrust. However, I will say that I was occasionally annoyed with her jumping and being startled every time he touched her or looked at her a certain way. The court intrigue was well done, and held some surprises for me. I fully expected some of the players to be exactly who they turned out to be, but I was glad to find a couple unexpected twists and turns.
I recommend Grave Mercy to fans of historical fiction, court intrigue, and heroines that take charge of their destiny. There are some mystical elements and significant romance, but neither overwhelms the historical mystery that carries throughout the story. Some might be worried about the mystic elements or take on religion. I think most interested in the book, especially by the thought of assassin nuns, will be just fine. Those that are offended by the very idea of old gods and the way pagan religions were transformed to be part of Christianity through force, and the idea that the pagan community could have had (or still have) some things right, might want to skip it. It is a four star book in my opinion.
The sequel, Dark Triumph follows fellow assassin nun Sybella on her own heart wrenching journey.
This review was originally published on Sharon the Librarian.