Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

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?

You can read an excerpt here.


Assassins, intrigue, murder, betrayal, love –  Grave Mercy has it all, and I loved every bit of it. I pretty much wanted to hug and squeeze this book to death.

I saw someone, somewhere (on twitter I think) describe this book as medieval ALIAS – now if that doesn’t make you want to run out and grab this book, I don’t know what will. And while I do have a notorious soft spot for assassin yarns, Grave Mercy is so much more than just a girl-learns-to-fight-and-kill story. Ismae, our leading lady, has a quiet strength that doesn’t rely on her hard-earned knowledge of poisons or fighting techniques – and it’s there from the very start, long before she begins her training. We see it when she faces down the harsh reality of her wedding night, after being forced to marry an abusive man, and later in how she resolutely endures the revulsion and fear that accompany her heritage. Ismae is steadfast, complicated, and intelligent, and her narration is utterly compelling. I loved her, absolutely loved her, and this book does complete justice to her coming of age story. Ismae learns who she is, embraces what she’s meant to be, questions everything she’s been taught to believe, and in the end finds her own way – and it’s just beautiful storytelling.

This book is also wonderfully rich, top to bottom. The setting is utterly believable and authentic to its time, not to mention gorgeously landscaped (how I now want to visit the coast of Brittany). The convent itself is never a simple place, despite its stark and unvarnished mien – there are politics and rivalries aplenty, and the ways the pagan and Christian belief systems collide within its walls are downright fascinating. I love how LaFevers played on how the Church incorporated pagan deities into their pantheon as Saints, and how she developed St. Mortain himself into such a complex character – reminding us that Death is never simple, and he comes in many guises. LaFevers then explores those complexities, delving into ideas of fate, mercy and justice, all of which bring lovely emotional heft to the story. This book is a fully realized world, both in time and place, and feeling, and it is wonderful to explore.

As for the plotting, it proceeds effortlessly. LaFevers lightly seeds in politics and intrigue from the start, and those seeds grow and sprout in fascinating ways. LaFevers just never misses a beat – even when Ismae is thrown into the sea of court politics and has to learn the names and players on the fly, never once does it becoming overwhelming or dry. Add on top of that a gradual, well-earned love story that only complicates Ismae’s situation, and you pretty much have everything you could want in a book – and can I just say how much I adored that the romance, while lovely, firmly took a backseat to the plot. Finally, a leading lady who has a life! Really the only thing I can say against this book is that I did get a bit ahead of one major reveal, but it didn’t mar the story for me at all. Watching Ismae struggle with deciding who to trust, and what to believe, kept my nose glued to the pages. I tore through this book.

Alright, enough with the gushing, but I’ll say it one more time: I loved this book. Grave Mercy is the full package; this one’s the real deal. If you’re a Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore, or Rae Carson fan, you do NOT want to miss this book.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

Ismae’s narrative voice is fluid and solid, her spying and killing skills impeccable. LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy.  A page-turner—with grace.

First Novels Club says:

The main plotline involves political intrigue (totally absorbing, with plenty of suspicious characters and secret backstabbing)…And when torturously (and delightfully) slow attraction builds between Ismae and Duval, it never overshadows the political plot, which I loved.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) says:

Middle-grade author LaFevers (the Theodosia books) makes an outstanding foray into historical romance with an enthralling recreation of 15th-century Brittany…Rich in historical detail, well-realized characters, political machinations, and enticingly prickly scenes between Ismae and Duval, LaFevers’s complex tale incorporates magic both sparingly and subtly.