Resa's Bookshelf

Resa's Bookshelf

Various and Sundry

Grave Mercy

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Grave Mercy

Just finished reading Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers for the second time in preparation for the next book release.  I picked up Grave Mercy about a year ago at Barnes and Noble.  This one was a completely random pick – I actually grabbed it from one of those cardboard display towers because I liked the cover art.  Which proves that when publishers think that cover art is the #2 thing that will convince a reader to buy a book (those being #1 title, #2 cover art, #3 author name recognition) they aren’t wrong, and I’m lying to myself by thinking that I’m one of the elite special class on whom this tactic does not work.  This is a historical spy political intrigue romance story about assassin nuns (that’s right: assassin nuns, um, yes please) and I ended up having mixed feelings about the book.  There are definitely some issues with the writing (lots of canned turns of phrase) and a few points in the story I found myself saying “but why can’t she just…”  Even so, the story moves along nicely and the characters engaging enough that the issues didn’t distract too much from the experience.  Although it wasn’t the experience I was expecting…

The Grave Mercy jacket description leads the reader to expect heavy action with lots of spying, fighting and death.  And there was ample opportunity for all those elements in the narrative, but those opportunities were passed over.  In short (with no spoilers you couldn’t get from the book jacket), Grave Mercy is about Ismae, the daughter of a turnip farmer who escapes an adolescence full of abuse to discover she was actually sired by death himself.  She lands at a convent where she receives training to become an assassin, death’s own handmaiden whose purpose is to help criminals and traitors who have been marked by death to join him immediately.   I wish the author had dedicated some page space to the years of assassins training Ismae and her fellow initiates received rather than skipping straight to her first assignment outside the Abbey.  And while you do get to see Ismae using some of her assassin and more mystical skills, she ends up spending a lot of the book wandering around being frustrated about not being able to kill anyone.  Instead of being let down that my nun assassin book wasn’t living up to its promises, I actually found this twist to be the most interesting part of Ismae’s story. While the training the author glossed over seems to have prepared her for the physical act of assassination, it clearly left her woefully unprepared for spying, political maneuvering, false facing, etc.  All required tools to maneuver within the court of Brittany.  Watching the character learn from her mistakes and piece together a puzzle that makes her doubt her God, her calling, and her heart makes for a captivating story.

The historical setting provided an interesting backdrop (although the story is told in the first person present tense which is an odd choice for a historical novel) and is one that hasn’t been overused.  Anyone who isn’t familiar with Brittany in the 1500s should do just enough Googling to learn a little about the Duchy without actually learning the story of Anne of Brittany.  Anyone who can pull obscure historical facts from the depths of their brain might be disappointed with Grave Mercy as some of the subplot endings will already be spoiled.  Although, even without knowing the history, by the time you reach the end of the book it’s obvious where all the characters are aligned.  Grave Mercy is the first in a planned trilogy and while I wouldn’t say this book concludes Ismae’s story it definitely concludes this chapter of her life so you won’t be left hanging.  The next two volumes are slated to cover the stories of her two fellow initiates: Sybella and Annith.  Dark Triumph comes out 2 April. – of course I’ve preordered it.  I won’t be taking the day off work, but I’ll definitely be reading it.  The few glimpses of Sybella in Grave Mercy suggest she’s even more damaged than Ismae.  Should make for an interesting read.