Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this novel!
Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Genre: YA, Historical, Fantasy Romance
My Rating: 3.5/4 out of 5 stars
Trigger/content warnings: Some violence and gore, sexual assault and attempted rape, physical abuse
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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?
Set in 1400s Brittany, this book weaves magic and romance with court intrigue and betrayal to create an original and refreshing YA fantasy. The world building and magical element were fantastically written and the story very fast paced. We follow our main character, Ismae, at the beginning of the story she escapes a brutal arranged marriage at the age of 14 and is taken to a convent to become an expert in the art of death. At around the 10% mark, the story jumps 3 years to Ismae’s first assignment.
I loved Ismae’s quiet strength and unyielding loyalty. Even though from the ages of 14-17 she was raised by the “Handmaidens of Death” when faced with impossible choices, she only ever follows her heart and what she believes is right.
Considering this book is around 400 pages long and I read it in under 2 days, it’s clear to say that it’s gripping and engaging plot kept me on the edge of my seat.
Another thing I really enjoyed was the subtle undertones on Greek Mythology, essentially the Hades and Persephone myth, in regards to the God of Death’s story.
While I did really enjoy the story, I had a couple of problems. One being, The Duchess, Anna, is a 12-year-old child. During the book she is betrothed to lots of different men, one tried to rape her, one falls “in love” with her, Anna’s storyline was so disheartening and awful, and I just couldn’t get along with it. Especially as she had two older brothers who could have taken the throne over her, and I didn’t understand why Duval or François couldn’t have led instead. They were much older, she was just a child. However, I do realise that historically, things like this did take place, it was still uncomfortable to read for me personally.
The second thing I had a bit of a problem with was Ismae, while I absolutely loved her character, sometimes she would say such vain things about others that were so out of place for her character. For example, when first enrolling in the convent, Ismae feels like everyone there is stunningly beautiful compared to her until she sees a woman that she describes as the following: “her black dimple does not flatter her olive skin. It does, however, match the faint moustache on her upper lip. I am filled with relief that she is not beautiful like the others, at least I will not be the ugliest one here”
Another instance, when meeting one of Duval’s friends, who is scarred, she describes him as “the ugliest man she has ever seen” I felt like these comments were so at odds with the rest of her character.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this and I would definitely recommend it to lovers of YA fantasy, especially if you like dashes of romance and magic too! I will probably be continuing on with this series as the characters intrigued me so much.
- “I am sorely vexed at being treated like a temptress when all I feel is bruised and broken.”
- “Perhaps that is because you mistake death for justice, and they are not the same thing.”
Let me know in the comments if you have read any historical fantasy and if so, what ones!
Disclaimer: Quotes taken from the ARC copy, these are subject to change.
The image used is from Google.