By Robin LaFevers
Publication date: April 3, 2012
Grave Mercy has been compared to Graceling by Kristin Cashore and while both protagonists are skilled female assassins, I prefer Grave Mercy's Ismae as a character. On the surface she may be a "strong female heroine" but she has flaws and she is not afraid to own up to her mistakes. Ismae endured a lot of pain and sadness in her young life before she came to the convent of St. Mortain and joined the sisterhood. Considering the way she was treated and sold off to the highest bidder, it isn't a surprise that Ismae has a negative view of men. She is only too glad to find purpose in serving her true father, St. Mortain the god of Death, as an assassin. Ismae finds a home among the sisters and a higher calling. She truly believes wholeheartedly in the mission of the convent and the orders they carry out. It doesn't occur to her to question the guilt of their victims or the decisions of the convent.
Ismae grows from being a victim into a highly skilled poisoner and assassin but internally her growth has been stunted because of the emotional damage inflicted on her. Her friendships in the convent with Annith and Sybella help but it isn't until she is sent out on a mission to the court of Brittany that she really begins to deal with what has happened to her. When she starts out, Ismae is unable to trust any men except perhaps Chancellor Crunard, the patron of her convent. She especially doesn't trust Gavriel Duval and understandably hates having to pretend to be his mistress as a cover story while at court. Gradually Ismae begins to see that not all men are evil and she even develops feelings for Duval inspite of herself. Ismae is not a cold hearted killer though she appeared that way at first. She genuinely cares for the Duchess and the ailing young Princess. She even shows mercy to someone who perhaps doesn't deserve it.
The relationship between Ismae and Duval slowly moves from mutual mistrust to grudging respect to love. The romance is an important part of the plot but it does not overshadow the mystery and political intrigue at court. I really appreciated that part of the story. It gave the book the feel of a historical fiction novel.
Overall, I thought this book offered a good blend of romance, character development, mystery, and a little fantasy. I think Grave Mercy would appeal to fans of Philippa Gregory because of the political intrigue and the romance. This is the first in a trilogy but the books are companion novels so while Ismae will be a character in the second book, a different member of the Sisterhood will be the main character. I look forward to reading the rest of the His Fair Assassin series.
Readalikes: Philippa Gregory, Mistwood by Leah Cypess, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
Note: I received an e-ARC for review courtesy of NetGalley