Grave Mercy – R. L. LaFevers
Genre: YA; Historical Fiction
Summary: In 15th century Brittany, 17-year-old Ismae seeks solace within the confines of the walls of St. Mortain’s convent. This isn’t your average, everyday abbey, though: in fact, these nuns are highly trained assassins who will do whatever it takes to carry out St. Mortain’s orders, especially when it comes to guarding Brittany’s independence. When Ismae goes to court to protect the duchess, will she be able to carry out her divinely inspired orders?
Review: My original interest in Grave Mercy can be summed up in two words: assassin nuns. How awesome is that concept? I’m used to nuns being docile and kind, so when there’s an extra dash of danger thrown in, I am completely hooked. Fortunately, Grave Mercy turned out to be just as awesome as I expected it to be, and though it weighed in at a respectable 549 pages, I read through it incredibly quickly.
The first thing I need to comment on is the tag line: “Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?” Tag lines often make me roll my eyes pretty hard because they tend to be dripping with cheesiness, but this line sums up Grave Mercy perfectly. During the period of time in which this book took place, women were viewed as docile creatures who needed men to help them in all situations, but LaFevers totally turned that notion on its head and made all of her women strong and capable. If anything, they were “wolves in sheep clothing” as they learned the art of seduction right along with the best way to fight and poison people. They weren’t passive sheep, but rather, these women took everything into their own capable hands and acted accordingly.
Ismae, the protagonist of our story, is a prime example of this. From the time she was born, Ismae didn’t really seem to belong to any portion of this world, as her mother tried to abort her and was unsuccessful. Because of this, she carried a deep, red stain on her back reminding her of how unwanted she was every day of her life. What’s truly remarkable about Ismae is she didn’t let this stop her; rather, she became more involved in her training and used her pain to her advantage. Ismae is a total and complete badass that doesn’t need help from anyone and is perfectly capable of saving herself, in addition to the men around her, and I absolutely loved reading about what was occurring in her life.
Duval was also an interesting character, and as soon as he was introduced, I had a feeling that he was going to be very important to the story, especially as it related to Ismae’s fate. I won’t go into detail all that much, but the way in which he was worked into the plot was extraordinarily interesting, and as more and more was revealed about him, it was easy to see how significant he was. I also liked that the reader could never be quite sure of his motives, as new information was being presented all of the time, and just when you thought you had him figured out, something else would transpire that would completely throw everything you thought you knew into chaos. Similarly, Ismae’s relationship with Duval was quite realistic, and I rather enjoyed watching things progress between the two of them.
As if the plot and awesome characters weren’t enough, the writing and story itself were super compelling. There wasn’t a single moment where I was bored with this text, and as each new plot twist was revealed, my attention was rapt to the pages. Sometimes when one reads historical fiction, one can get a bit bogged down in the details, but fortunately, that was not the case here. As I flipped the last page of the book, I think I yelled “That’s it?! …but, but, but I want more!,” which doesn’t always happen for me, so it probably goes without saying that I’ll be reading the sequel soon.
If you like historical fiction with badass females, Grave Mercy is a must read!
Read-alikes: Gilt – Katherine Longshore; The Book of Blood and Shadows – Robin Wasserman