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Robin LaFevers – Grave Mercy

August 21, 2014

67. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (2012)
His Fair Assassin, Book 1

Read By: Erin Moon
Length: 14h 11m (549 pages)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 24 July 2014
Finished: 08 August 2014

Where did it come from? Downloaded from YA Sync Audiobooks last summer.
Why do I have it? Well, free audiobook, but I am also totally on board with historical teenage assassins.

How can you protect
your duchess when you’re not sure
who the traitors are?

Summary: “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 expell me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign that I have been sired by the god of death himself.” So begins the story of Ismay, a young woman living in fifteenth century France. Saved from a disastrous wedding to a loutish man, Ismay is spirited off to the convent of Saint Mortain. There, the sisters train girls like Ismay to be the handmaidens of death – to recognize the marks that Mortain puts on those who must die, and to carry out the assassinations by a number of means… including poison, Ismay’s specialty. Soon, Ismay is being sent out on a mission of her own: protect the young Duchess of Brittany, and root out and kill the traitor in her court. The abbess sends her to court in the company of Duval, a young man who claims to be loyal to the duchess and an ally to the convent, but Ismay soon learns that Duval, like everyone at court, is hiding secrets of his own. Can she trust him while attempting to untangle the web of intrigues that surrounds the young duchess? Can she save not only the duchess’s life and lands, but also her own? And how can she come to terms with what is expected of her by her convent, by her god, and by her loyalty to Brittany, when those three things are not necessarily working to the same end?

Review: I really enjoyed this book. I hadn’t been reading much historical fiction lately, and I’d missed it, so this was a welcome change to my usual fare. As historical fiction goes, it wasn’t the most historical I’ve ever read – LaFevers doesn’t spend a lot of time on the “set dressing”, so the story doesn’t feel particularly grounded in a specific time (other than “vaguely medieval”). There are also parts that are pretty anachronistic – the main conceit of the book, the convent of teenage female assassins, for one! – but also some of the dialogue and attitudes of the characters didn’t quite jibe with the period. (Obviously I don’t want a book where the characters are speaking in Medieval French the whole time, but there were some modern terms and phrasings that just caught my ear wrong.)

But the lack of emphasis on the set dressing left plenty of emphasis on the story, which was a-okay by me. Ismay’s story is full of intrigue, plenty of action, and some nicely-done romance (nicely-done in that it is a solid plot thread that intertwines nicely with the other elements of the story without completely taking them over.) I also liked that the conflict was not all external; Ismay having to examine her own conflicting loyalties added a nice depth to the character and the story. I did have a little trouble at times keeping the various threads of intrigue and scheming clear in my mind, mostly because I had some trouble keeping all the characters straight in my mind (a common problem for me, especially when the characters have names from a language I don’t speak, and I’m listening to the audiobook rather than reading… the foreign syllables tend to blur together in my mind.) But I got the main characters and their loyalties sorted out clearly enough by the end, and really enjoyed the journey to get there (although I wish more time had been spent on Ismay’s training; a lot of her time in the convent was glossed over, which was a shame, since I thought that would have been interesting). Apart from my issues with the names, I also really enjoyed the audiobook; Erin Moon does a very nice job with the voices, keeping them distinct without sounding fake.

For all of the young adult books and all of the historical fiction books I read, I am realizing that I don’t read that much young adult historical fiction. But this was such an interesting read that I think I’ll need to change that – and I’ll definitely be checking out the sequels, to start. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Recommended for historical fiction fans, people who like stories set in medieval France, or people who think that teenage girl assassins (a la Graceling and Poison Study) are fun to read about.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

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First Line: 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 expell me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign that I have been sired by the god of death himself.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2014 11:53 am

    Mm, teenage girl assassins. Sounds very fun.

    • August 24, 2014 11:13 am

      It was! I mean, not fun like funny and snarky, but definitely engaging.

  2. August 23, 2014 4:06 pm

    I am 5 chapters away from the end, and I can’t wait until it’s time to make supper so I can finish! I, too, find myself having difficulty keeping the names straight – but it hasn’t stopped me from enjoying this book a lot!

    • August 24, 2014 11:13 am

      Elizabeth – Awesome! I’m midway through the second book, and am enjoying it as well!

  3. August 24, 2014 5:41 pm

    This book was definitely a ton of fun. Not my favorite book of the year, but absolutely enjoyable!


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