Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Released: April 3rd 2012
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
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? (from Goodreads)
Like most other people, I was dying to read Grave Mercy, because let’s face it, who isn’t intrigued by nun assassins in the fifteenth century? So when the chance to read it came on NetGalley, I couldn’t pass it by, and I’m really glad I didn’t.
I was definitely drawn in from the beginning of Grave Mercy, from the moment Ismae ran away from her forced marriage to the convent. I was morbidly fascinated by the convent and how the nuns taught the new recruits the different ways to kill a man – with daggers, poisons, wire – it was creepy, but I was hooked. The fact they were all “daughters of Death” was also pretty crazy but cool – those sired by Death had special gifts which made them perfect candidates to become assassins and carry out the work of Death. All the girls had suffered and had terrible pasts, so escaping to the convent and learning to defend themselves against the wicked deeds of men was an opportunity for them – they didn’t see killing as something horrible, but as something logical that needed to be done. They had a strange way of looking at things and it was really interesting to read about.
Ismae was definitely a great character. She was raised by a turnip farmer; a man who hated her and abused her entire life. She was bitter and when she saw a chance to escape from her abysmal life, she took it. She was very smart and determined and like all the other girls at the convent, had no trouble killing someone she had been ordered to (she was pretty badass, to be honest). I didn’t know if I’d be able to like her, but I actually did. Even though a lot of people perceived her as a cold-blooded killer, she was actually strangely innocent in a way. She didn’t know much of the world, and got excited just being in a big town. She was a bit oblivious about the way relationships worked between men and women and even when she killed, she truly thought she was carrying out the will of Mortain (Death saint), her father. But she didn’t blindly do whatever she was told – as the book went on, she started to realise a few things and I liked how she did things her own way and followed the path she thought was right.
Duval, the man Ismae was supposed to be spying on, was another intriguing character. He was shrouded in mystery for most of the book and it was difficult to figure out whether or not he was completely trustworthy. He did seem to really love his sister, which I liked, and was willing to do anything for her, and I enjoyed reading about their sibling relationship. There was a lot of tension between Duval and Ismae, and I liked the way their relationship slowly developed (definitely not insta-love!). As they got to know each other better, and found out more about both their pasts, they grew closer and the romance was sweet and I enjoyed reading about it. My only problem was with this scene at the end which I thought was a little bit ridiculous. I mean, I understand Ismae had special gifts, as a daughter of Death, but really.
Sybella and Annik were Ismae’s friends from the convent and both had important roles to play, though we didn’t actually find out much about them. Annik was the one who supported Ismae the most and seemed to be the kindest of the three, whereas Sybella was a lot more commanding and self-assured. Sybella’s mission was kept a secret throughout the book, and each time we got a glimpse of her, she seemed more and more distressed. I was so curious to know what her orders had been – I’m really glad the next book in the series is about Sybella because I can’t wait to find out more about her and her background.
I really enjoyed the storyline in Grave Mercy, but I have to admit I guessed who the villain was early on, it was pretty obvious. I don’t think this affected my enjoyment of the book though; apart from that and a fair bit of info-dumping, I really liked it. I also think Grave Mercy could be enjoyed by adult as well as YA readers – it definitely had a more mature feel to it and I think Ismae was a character that anyone would like reading about.
Overall, Grave Mercy was a compelling read with a very cool, unusual storyline that I really enjoyed. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of historical fiction with action and drop of supernatural.