Review: Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers

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?

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Grave Mercy has the politics of the Game of Thrones series, the action of Graceling, and the magical qualities of Poison Study. Quite frankly, it is one of the best historical YA mysteries I have ever read.

We meet Ismae on the day of her wedding. Her father sold her for three silver coins to a pig farmer in a nearby village. Ismae hopes that because her new husband paid so high an amount for her that he will be gentle with her and she no longer has to suffer beatings like those her father gave her.

When the wedding is over her new husband bades her upstairs to undress, she stays in her chemise. As he comes toward her Ismae is filled with a sense of dread and runs. He catches her and rips the chemise from her body. It is then he sees that she is marked by Death himself. A long scar runs down her back marking her. A remnant of the poison her mother used to try and expel her from the womb. He becomes angry- beats her within an inch of her life and locks her in a root cellar.

The priest who married her to the abusive man comes and steals her away with the help of an herb witch and Ismae begins her five day trip to the convent where she will learn who she really is. Death’s handmaiden, Death’s daughter, and most importantly Death’s assassin. Here Ismae trains for years until she is given an assignment to go with the Duke’s bastard to court and send word back to the abbey of who is against the duchess- the bastard’s sister Anne.

The abbess informs Ismae via crow who to kill along the way and the saint of death marques the targets. It is this time away from abusive men and the convent that Ismae learns there may be other ways to serve her saint- her father than blindly killing anyone with a black mark upon their soul.

The book dragged a bit in the middle, and I would have liked to have seen Ismae be more assassin-ish at times but all in all it was a very intriguing read about a France so distant in memory that the time period isn’t generally covered in school lessons.

Ismae is a great character and strong role model for girls. I highly suggest being the wolf and reading this book.

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