Fantasy Celebration: Joint Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Where did you get the book from: e-ARC from Netgalley
Release date: Out now

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?

*blurb taken from Goodreads*

Lou: I’m really not a big fan of assassin books because half the time I don’t get the reasoning for why they kill, and there needs to be enough of a moral struggle for what they do. When Has mentioned this title to me, and it was available on Netgalley, I was pretty intrigued by it despite the assassin role. It’s a Fantasy YA, and I wanted to see how it would fare with a how a teenager deals with being a killer. When I first started reading, the story hooked me good and proper. I loved the author’s voice, and the heroine was unusual enough to keep my interest. A assassin nun is definitely something different. But that sort of dropped off for me, and I have such conflicting feelings about the book. I loved the storytelling and setting, but had major problems with the heroine, Ismae.

Has: I don’t mind assassin type heroes, although they have to be likable or I love to hate types heh! But when I read the premise of Grave Mercy which pinged my Pusher radar because it looked really intriguing and different and leapt at the chance when it was available on Netgalley. And when I read the book, I have to say it lived up to that promise although I had a few niggles, but the cast of characters and the plot kept me engaged throughout the book.

Lou: Ismae as a heroine annoyed me on so many occasions. I loved the author voice though, and despite not liking Ismae whatsoever, I was still hooked on the story. Ismae had a major major hate fest with men, and at times she was a psychopath. Her giddiness and almost happiness at killing was just weird, and how she would wish she could kill any man that looked at her the wrong way was troubling beyond belief. She had a terrible and horrific childhood, but the way she acted towards men who glanced at her wrong was just scary. I also had trouble believing that she would simply believe and take to heart what the Nuns said for her missions. She served the Saint of Death, but there was no wondering where the nuns got their missives from. It was just happiness and giddiness that she was able to go kill someone.

Has: I didn’t have an issue with her feeling giddy and high because of the way she was trained and taught, there was a religious fervour to her kills and she wanted to please her god and live up to the standards of the convent. And the one time she did killed without a marque (a sign from Mortain the death God/Saint) on the victim – there was a repercussion of sorts. But I did wished there was more of reaction and feelings about her targets because I felt it was brushed aside and she wasn’t a cold blooded killer or a sociopath in the sense that she had no feelings at all.

I also felt later in the book, when circumstances lead her to question her orders and the Convent’s rules – I wished this was expanded upon, because it was so sudden and I didn’t think realistically she wouldn’t either feel more bitter or doubtful about that new direction which she embarks on.

Lou: Yes, her feelings and inner thoughts were completely passed over on which is why I got the impression that she was a psychopath. I think also the time of when she was trained was completely glossed over. One minute she was a initiative, and the next she has finished her training and is giddy and excited about her mission. Her first kill, there was no internal struggle and I just felt as if she had no thoughts and feelings. It was a strange read because whilst I enjoyed the story, I had no liking for the protagonist.

I did think that the love interest was done in a way where it stayed true to Ismae and there were no OMG, I LURVE HIM. She had no liking for Duval, and there was no trust between them until it was slowly built up through time. The intrigue and plot I liked, though I had trouble with Duval’s pre-teen sister  marrying a much older man. I know in that sort of time period it was done, but it was hard not judging by today’s standards and all I kept thinking was, this poor poor child. Yet I also think she was way too old for her years, and she read and came off as a 30 year woman.

Has: I totally agree with you about the no exploring what the training entails, which I really missed out because I think this would have really made the book even better and that was my one big disappointment. Although I suspect the sequels which will focus on other characters like Sybella and Annith who are Ismae’s friends in the convent will hopefully cover that aspect.
I think the romance built up organically, and I was glad there was no forced angst with the misunderstanding. I really enjoyed the love story and how it progressed and I think it helped to humanise Ismae, especially since she has a dark and abusive past that involved men. I think she became more relatable in the final 3rd half of the book because of the romance and that really helped with her characterisation.

I also loved the plot and the conspiracies and political intrigue, although I kind of had my suspicions on who was behind the main threat to the throne halfway through the book. I didn’t expect the twists that led to the unveiling of the conspirist.  I do have to say, that this book is heavy with the plot and conspiracy threads and it may appear to be slow in pace to some readers because of all of the plot threads. But I really enjoyed this, because it was deftly woven to a tense ending. And there are some good action scenes, but Ismae had to be under cover, so I can understand her being discreet to cover her identity – and I am not a huge fan of spy stories, because they tend to be plot heavy and no real action, but with Grave Mercy I was totally sucked in, and for me that is the strength of the author’s writing.

Lou: I tend to avoid spy stories like the plague because they usually end boring the heck out of me, but I did like Grave Mercy’s story and it was a lot to do with the storytelling and tone. I just wished wished that Ismae had been developed a lot more. I would definitely not rec this book for people who don’t like spy novels, because it is very slow. In fact, I’m not sure if I would rec this book because of my own conflicting feelings about it. It was obvious that the Nuns were manipulating Ismae and the other assassins, and it was bound to come head to head. I didn’t get who the betrayer would be, so that was a surprise. The revelation of who Ismae’s Father was a little overdone and ended up spoiling things a little for me. Also, the way she would feel souls and treat them with so much respect after killing them made NO sense to me. All in all, I would definitely read this author again to see how she develops Sybella who is the heroine in the next book. I give Grave Mercy a B-.

Has: I totally agree, the author’s voice and tone of the book really drew me in, and I loved the alternative history with the hint of magic and pre-Christian gods/goddesses. It really established the world-building for me and I hope in the sequels we get to see more exploration of the saints and what kind of real hold they have in the world. I also look forward to reading Sybella’s story who really made an impact on the page for me, because she was such an unstable and charismatic character, and I’m definitely drawn to her past history about why she became like that.

Grave Mercy is a tightly woven plot full of conspiracies and political intrigue, which the author has deftly ties together in an engrossing story. It feels like a real feast of history, intrigue and a good dash of magic and romance. I am firmly signed up for the next book!
I give Grave Mercy a B+

3 thoughts on “Fantasy Celebration: Joint Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers”

  1. Love the joint review. I like the sound of this book, I enjoy assassin stories. But I am not big into YA. After reading what you two thought of it though I might have to give it a try despite it being labeled YA.

  2. @kimba88: Thanks so much Kimba. We had a great time writing the review as Has and I had such different reactions to it. I’m looking forward to seeing more of what the author has to offer :).

    @Lexi: Thanks so much Lexi. I hope you enjoy it if you read it. It’s not overly YA if that makes sense. There’s no angsty teenage behaviour, and in some aspects it felt like an adult read.

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