Young, beautiful and deadly.
Trained as an assassin by the god of Death, Ismae is sent to the court of Brittany, where she finds herself underprepared – not only for the 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?
A dangerous romance full of intrigue, poison and ultimately finding one’s way.
Ismae is a handmaiden of death. Saved from being sold into marriage to a brutal man, she enters the convent of Saint Mortain, one of the old gods of death, and is trained to become an assassin. She is then sent to court in Brittany and finds herself embroiled in a web of political intrigue and violence. Along the way she discovers much about herself , her God and the convent who trained her.
I think I might be getting a bit of a thing for books about female assassins. The only other book that I have enjoyed this much this year is ‘Throne of Glass’. ‘Grave Mercy’ is incredibly gripping, keeping you hooked to the end. But at the same time it is also a slow grower. When I finished I knew that I had loved the book but it wasn’t until I thought about it that I realized just how good it is. I finished this book halfway through a train journey, normally I would have gone straight to the next book and started that but in this case I couldn’t. I found that I needed time to process the story, not so much for emotional reasons but so I could think about the finer points of the plot.
As someone with an interest in history I normally approach historical fiction with some caution, especially those about this time period as I specialized in this at university. In the case of ‘Grave Mercy’ I didn’t find that I was trying to pick holes. This could be because although I know the basics of what happened in Brittany in this time period I don’t know the details, but I suspect it was probably because of the fantasy element. The book reads like a historical novel, but does at times venture into the realm of the supernatural. This isn’t sensationalized to any extent though and is just treated as though it is a normal part of life.
Ismae really come into her own as character throughout the book. When she leaves the convent she appears quite brainwashed and unable to think for herself, but as time goes on you get a real sense of how she grows as a person and by the end she becomes a strong character, with a real sense of self and her god. Whilst at first she seems quite uncaring, though her relationships with minor characters you see just how big a heart she has as she discovers that the ability to bring death carries with it a responsibility of mercy as well as vengeance.
Like most books in YA there is also a strong romantic side to the story. I loved the relationship between Ismae and Duval. I find ‘instant’ love in stories quite unbelievable, but this is a relationship that builds. Yes, in some ways it is quite clichéd as they start out disliking each other, but I liked that what brought them together was a shared sense of purpose and what attracts them to each other are shared values. One character comments that they seem very well suited and as a reader you can see that they really are.
I became so invested in these characters that I was disappointed to find out that the next book in the trilogy will be from the point of view of another character. Whilst I have no doubt that I will grow to love Sybilla as much as I do Ismae, I know that I will miss her internal dialogue and the relationship that she has with Duval. At the same time I am very much looking forward to reading ‘Dark Triumph’.
Verdict: Well written historical fantasy, with characters that become very real to the reader. Can’t wait for the next one.
Reviewed by Alison