Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
by Robin LaFevers
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pub. Date: April 3, 2012
Book received from: Publisher
Ismae bears marks upon her flesh that have determined her fate. She has escaped an arranged marriage and an abusive father in 15th century Brittany, and now lives in a convent and learns the ways of the women within its walls. They also serve Mortain, the god of death, which makes Ismae a handmaiden of Death. After being trained for years to fulfill her destiny of serving as Death’s assassin, she is sent to the high court of Brittany to seek vengeance in the name of Mortain upon those who are conspiring against the young (soon to be) Duchess Anne.
While there, she becomes drawn into the world of deceit, conspiracies, and loyalties while she is being guided by her convent and the greater cause she serves. She soon realizes that it is difficult to know who to trust, who is on what side, and what interest each person has in the duchy. While there, she has been given orders to keep watch on Duval, the man she accompanies at court. She must figure out if the orders she has been taught to carry out without question are really the wishes of Mortain, or if the convent has interests of its own. In the end, will she leave everything to protect the man she believes she can trust, or find that she can truly trust no one?
Grave Mercy is so much different from a lot of the YA that is out on the market right now. LaFevers has given us a female lead that has become strong through necessity and will not give up the independence she has worked so hard to achieve. The story deals not just with the wonderful and haunting idea of serving Death in the elegance of a high court, but there is a deeper storyline of escaping oppressive relationships and situations. Ismae has always had someone of authority controlling her: her father, her husband, the convent, and even Death. With each life Ismae takes in the name of Mortain, we find that she becomes that much freer from her own situations. As she struggles with the ideas of vengeance and destiny, she finds her own freedom through freeing others from the mortal life- and the more knowledge she gains in regards to the one she serves leads her to a better understanding of her place in it all.
Another thing that stands out about Grave Mercy is the lack of a love triangle, and no ‘bad boy’ love interest in sight, which is so prevalent in today’s YA. For that, I would like to say ‘Thank you, Ms. LaFevers.’ Thank you for not compromising your character just to add drama- not that this story needs any more drama. There is one guy she must decide if she truly can trust, and that is enough distraction from her cause. Well, there is the ‘Handmaiden of Death’ thing. So, I suppose it could be said there is a love triangle with Death, Duval, and herself. But even so, that is the kind of triangle I can deal with.
With nearly 600-pages, this is no book to be taken lightly. There is such an immense amount of character-building, lore, and intrigue that it has easily lent itself to being the first in a series, aptly named His Fair Assassin. With great historical background, and original and haunting concept, and lush imagery, the story is nothing short of captivating. One wonders what the next installment will bring, as there are so many directions it could take. One thing is for sure, though: Ismae is not a heroine that will disappoint. She is strong-willed and independent because she fought for it- and she will not lose that for anyone, regardless of how much she may love them. Because when you have broken free from a life of confinement, you will not easily go back.
This book can be purchased at Amazon.com, as well as your local independent bookseller.
For more about Robin LaFevers, go to her website here.