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ARC Review: Grave Mercy

my thoughts in a few sentences: Welcome to 15th century Brittany, a country holding down a tremulous peace with France and it's protectors are searching for a means to keep their homes and their sovereign safe. With this comes a game of deceit brewing at court and among the lords and ladies filling it betrayal and treason sit heavily in the air. Who is friend to the Duchess, to Brittany, and who is not? The intrigue and slow unraveling of lies and spies along the subtly spun web of deception and duplicity fascinates the mind and lures it into yet another game of puzzle-solving. Frauds are abundant, and Ismae, an eerily well-trained assassin working in the name of St. Mortain (or Death), with her heart vulnerable to a certain brisk, protective, and warm Breton working fiercely to secure his sister's crown and her competent, death-dealing hands quick to whip out a crossbow or a dagger and aim true, meticulously untangles shocking truths about those she has blindly served and the "allies" with whom the Duchess seeks advice. LaFevers' writing is thin with overbearing prose and ripe with authenticity and vibrancy, as scrupulously depicted as Ismae's methods for scrounging facts and separating it from illusions of loyalty and done so with beauty in its simplicity.

hooking first lines: " 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."

Rating: Perfect Bed Partner | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt • NetGalley • Historical Fantasy • 4/3/12 • $15.01

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

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?
Next to paranormal romance, there is nothing better than delving into a historical fantasy, as we are instantly whisked away to a time existing, in all its imperfections and awfulness and beauty, in mere written recordings begun by clumsy hands grown steady over the centuries and brought to life in a way in which readers, with our animated and colorful imaginations, can connect with in literature and with its transcription into wondrous fiction a sheen of newness and a magnum of possibilities come alive behind our eyes and breathe in that space in our minds that allow us to see with lightly shadowed clarity. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers bears a world unfamiliar to our questing minds and slowly, subtly paves a path for us to travel there in our rapt minds, hanging on to each word for more tells that will reveal to us abounding depth into this century in which Ismae lives. Ismae is both a source of mystery and a cause for sympathy, and we are a bit wary to feel the latter because how helpless can this rumored cunning handmaiden of Death actually be? But, LaFevers fences with our reluctance and we must withdraw and surrender to compassion, as we sink into this painful glance into the torturous past that brings Ismae to the place she now stands on a sorrowful wave of blood and cruelty and revulsion.

Ismae is adept at persuasion, and she convinces herself, with us faithful in her conclusions, that she is not weak-willed, vulnerable, and insecure in the person she has become. And while she isn't the first, she is wrong about the second, and shaky on the third layer of her conception of herself. Strong and powerful, she can bring any foe to his/her knees, to pleading for mercy, to swift and unexpected death. Once she has a target, the unfortunate person doesn't have a prayer, no chance at redemption. Ismae's past and her soft heart make her vulnerable to warmth and gentleness and care, particularly when those things are gifted to her by a man she can give no trust and sets her pulse to pounding. Her confusion as to the alignment of her heart lends a small sense of naiveté to the sired-by-darkness and eerily quick-minded assassin.

Her recent assignment as the passionately vigilant eyes and ears of the convent in service of St. Mortain, patron saint of death, proves to be most difficult and plenty dangerous. Every member of the court is riddled with secrets and the issue lies in discerning which are harmless and which harbor ill will and the potential for the Duchess' downfall. From graceful, shrewd ladies and power-greedy noblemen interested in securing their own ends and not the welfare of their young sovereign, many and few could be the puppetmasters setting up the danger looming closer and closer with each passing day. With all the thrill of solving a murder mystery, this mystery is masked by the gloss of rich and powerful men and women and the twin meanings hidden beneath their cold politeness and hungry eyes which bring immense satisfaction with each clue we uncover. In a place where trust is a luxury and flattery is a weapon, Ismae acts as keen and capable protector, intelligent strategist, and merciful servant, a shoo-in favorite and an all-around impressive heroine.

A tentative romance blooms and rinses clean any smears of doubt toward the loyal and secretive Duval, a man who shares Ismae's innate, though initially well-buried, compassion and engages her thoughts, urging her to ask questions and forgo blind obedience. Mistrust is the first to vanish between them, and then burning attraction and sweet compassion, understanding, and gentle concern are the next follow, and before long love is bouncing uncertainly between them until they settle their questions and reluctance. And with their love, their country, and their friends dipping into peril with no escape, the story jumps from gradual unveiling to fast-paced action with little warning. There is sadness, loss, and hope revived, and though the danger isn't behind them by the end, love, born in spite of hateful first impressions, springs dreams of a bright and secure future for these two characters we've come to adore immeasurably.

I am naught but a tool of the convent, to be wielded at need. Who am I to question those who have raised me up from the cellar floor?
I am a handmaiden of Death. I walk in His dark shadow and do His bidding. Serving Him is my only purpose in this life. (19%)

"What is my fair assassin so afraid of? I wonder."
"I'm not afraid."
Duval tilts his head to the side. "No?" He studies me a long moment, then rises out of his chair. I hold my breath as he crosses to my bed. "Are you afraid I will draw closer, perhaps?" His voice is pitched low, little more than a purr.
My breath catches in my throat, trapped by something I long to call fear but that doesn't feel like fear at all. Every inch of my skin is thrillingly, painfully aware of the soft linens and bedcovers between us. They are thicker than any gown I have ever worn, and yet I feel unbearably exposed.
"Perhaps you worry I might touch you," he muses. I watch, mesmerized, as his hand reaches toward me.

Fans of deadly female assassins and slow-burn, sweetly fulfilling romances are or will be fans of:

Still looking for more? Interested in dagger-wielding, battle-savvy thieves in disguise? You might want to read:

Got something specific in mind? Dare I believe I might NOT have covered something you wish to know? If so, let me know down in the comments section. Don't be shy!


Tiffany said...

I loved this one so much! It's probably my favorite book of year so far. I absolutely adore anything historical so of course that aspect mixed with the awesomeness of Ismae, the political intrigue, and the swoon-worthy romance made up the perfect book for me. I can't wait to read the next book in the series. Awesome review :)

April Books & Wine said...

Dude I need to read Scarlet since I liked Grave Mercy and Poison Study and Graceling.

Also? For me nothing is better than diving into historical fantasy, paranormal romance is like in the middle of my list. I like it but in doses.

AND OMG DUVALLLLLLLL. Let's discuss how fantastic he is and their awesome chemistry together.

Sam @ Realm of Fiction said...

I'm actually not always a big fan of historical fantasy, but I did really enjoy this book. Fictional politics holds no interest in me so that aspect didn't sit too well, but I LOVED the characters so it was still very enjoyable. Great review, Asher! :)

Lisa Schensted said...

You had me at the comparison to Graceling! 

Asher_Knight said...

 RIGHT?!? It was just so wonderful. One of the best historical fantasies I've read, EVER. Ismae was just full of pure badassery and THE ROMANCE. I lurve Duval. He is sexy and stoic and I LOVE HIM. I feel pretty sympathetic toward Sybella, so I'm really anxious to catch her POV in the next book.

Asher_Knight said...

YES, YOU NEED TO READ SCARLET. It doesn't even matter if you don't like Robin Hood, because you will love this retelling regardless. Gosh, how can I explain it? It's pure awesome. Scarlet is prickly and headstrong and fierce, she's cunning with plans, wicked with knives, and a badass thief. And don't even get me started on the rest of the characters, the plot, and the ROMANCE. It's so, so good. I loved it more than Grave Mercy and Graceling, and I think even Poison Study.

I'm addicted to paranormal books, but if that WASN'T my thing, best believe I'd be all over historical fantasy twenty four mother flipping seven.

AND DUVAL. Bro. We can have that discussion anytime any place and I will have LOADS of THINGS to say about his awesomeness and that oh-so-delicious chemistry.

Asher_Knight said...

Oh, really? You're more into sci-fi, right? I think I remember reading that in one of your reviews. And I don't really dig sci-fi, SO WEIRD. XD The politics were engaging but could sometimes be tedious and I think that's why the book wasn't absolutely perfect for me. I like a rousing game of political chess, but not overly much, you know?

THE CHARACTERS ARE AMAZING, indeed. I couldn't get enough of Ismae, Duval, Beast, and de Lornay! Even the Duchess grew on me, as did her other siblings :D And thanks, Sam <333

Asher_Knight said...

Well, there you go, I knew that would ensnare some people. Enjoy!

Stephanie said...

I am in a tizzy over this review. I've heard nothing but amazing things about this book and I loved both Scarlet and Graceling... all signs point to me loving Grave Mercy, too! And then you had to go and mention a slow-burn...gah, yes, this will be my next read. I can't wait! 

Heidi said...

I love this review, Asher!  You've written it beautifully, and really captured Ismae and her relationship with Duval.  I'm so happy that you loved this one!  Great suggestions too, I hadn't even heard of Poison Study before reading this book, and I feel like people are mentioning them in tandem constantly.  I'll be reading it soon!

Asher_Knight said...

Thanks, Stephanie! It's fabulous read, that's not quite flawless but really well-done, addictive, and deadly in its attraction. I really couldn't help but gobble it up as quickly as I did. AND THE ROMANCE. Might as well have just cupped my heart gently and kissed it, it was so wonderful. *high-fives* SO LOVE THAT YOU LOVE SCARLET. It's one of my favorite reads of this year.

Asher_Knight said...

Aw, thanks, Heidi <3 I did my best, hoping to draw more lovers of historical fantasy into it, and lovers of romance as well, because their's was so well-written and warm and sexy. Maria V. Snyder is another fab fantasy writer and the reason people are mentioning Poison Study in the same breath as Grave Mercy has to do with the Ismae/Duval and Yelena/Valek similarities. They have the same feel, going from hate to love, and they're both awesome assassins as well. :D

Amy said...

Look at you, killing it with this review! It's awesome, you're awesome, and Grave Mercy is AWESOME. I honestly can't think of anything about this book that I didn't like. Nothing. I kept noticing your twitter updates as you were reading and doing little fist pumps when you gushed about it! So glad you liked it, Asher! :-)

Asher_Knight said...

 *bows* I do try <3 And you left out how AWESOME are you, Amy. I effing love your blog, so hearing you say all that in one sentence makes me all giggly and happy ;) I love how I can update on Goodreads and Twitter does it too - two birds, one stone, AND EVERYBODY knows the business. I was so happy with this one! YO. Duval is the MAN. Loved that guy HARD.

Bookworm1858 said...

I love your read similars as they are all books I loved just like I loved Grave Mercy.  This is a lovely review; I hope it will encourage more people to give this massive tome a shot so they can discover all the things you discuss.

Asher_Knight said...

 Thanks, they're all just books I've been really digging that stick to that vibe, you know? I LOVED those books as well. Thank you! The massiveness IS totally worth it.