Author: Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Genre: Historical Fiction YA, Fantasy YA
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published on: April 3, 2012
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge
Summary: 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?
To say that I have been feeling ANTICIPATION! for GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers over the past few months is an understatement of the EPIC variety. It’s one of the books that I’ve been most looking forward to reading this year, and even though having all of that excitement and high expectations for a book is so much fun and one of the reasons that I LOVE having this blog and talking about books with all of you guys, it’s also one of the sharpest double-edged swords I know. Because sometimes high expectations have nowhere else to go but down. BUT! HUZZAH! Not only did Robin LaFever’s YA debut MEET my expectations, GRAVE MERCY stared my expectations down with MAJOR stink-eye and then blew them into tiny pieces. GRAVE MERCY, the first book in the His Fair Assassin series, is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, and come December when I’m thinking of my favorite reads from 2012, this book will be on that list. WRITE IT DOWN.
So, is GRAVE MERCY historical fiction or fantasy? Fantasy or historical fiction? Well in truth, I think–like so many other books in YA these days that cross genres–it’s a little bit of both. To me, I think of it mostly as historical fiction because it takes place in our world, in the medieval time period, in a real place (Brittany, now a part of France, but in the 1300s an independent Duchy–historically accurate stuff), with real historical figures dealing with an actual historical issue/threat/bunch of political schemers (basically, France wants Brittany, Brittany says “oh no you di int” WITH finger snaps. Spying, scheming, and other shenanigans ensue). And that part of the story is gripping, fast-paced, twisty, and THE BOMB. Some of the best historical fiction that I’ve read in a long time. Author Robin LaFevers thinks so, too, and you can RESEARCH (YES!!!) more about it on her website.
There are fantastical things about GRAVE MERCY as well, though, and those elements are BADASS too. The nuns in the order of St. Mortain serve one of the old gods of Brittany, Death, who marks them with special powers so that they might better serve him in killing those people who bear his mark. GUYS, ASSASSIN NUNS ARE AMAZING. They are a little cold, calculating, fervent, devoted, and incredibly skilled. Seriously. The convent takes in young, troubled girls who have been marked by Death, often rescuing them in the process from a life of poverty, crime, or as in the case of our main character, Ismae, abusive relationships. Literally NONE of this stuff is bad, guys. It’s all incredibly enthralling, the history AND the fantasy.
Of course, even though the setting and the history are fantastic, what really drives GRAVE MERCY are the characters, and how they interact with each other. So I don’t just mean to say that Ismae ROCKS MY SOCKS because she’s so brave, clever, strong, and FIERCE, or that if panties were snowmen, then Duval would be March (BOOM! I just New Girl-ed GRAVE MERCY). Even though both of those things–and more–are true. (Really, Duval is more than just a hot piece, you know? He’s VERY intelligent, devoted, loyal, and protective, too. But, also steamy.) What Robin LaFevers gives us with these characters, though, is an environment that requires suspicion, backstabbing, secrets, underhandedness, and lies. True loyalty is hard-won, and honestly, nearly impossible in this fraught, tense political climate. The DRAMA is intense, and just…outstanding.
I’m trying to keep the CAPSLOCK and the fangirling to a minimum so that you guys can actually understand that there is real merit to how tremendous GRAVE MERCY is. The plot unwinds at the perfect pace, there’s great twists and schemes, a slow-burning relationship based on respect AND attraction, well-drawn and complex characters, and that SUPER moral gray area that finds Ismae questioning the sisters’ methods and reasons for the assassinations they are ordered to do in Death’s name. I had a hard time putting it down. In fact, since I read a egalley, I had no idea the book was nearly 550 pages long until my hard copy came in the mail yesterday, that’s how smoothly the story moves.
I don’t want to beg or pressure you guys into reading GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers, but, you know, I’ll do it if I have to. I can’t think of anything about this book that wasn’t awesome to me. His Fair Assassin is a series, but the remaining volumes are going to feature two other sisters and friends/associates of Ismae. THIS IS FANTASTIC NEWS. Once you read GRAVE MERCY, you’ll be dying to get your hands on the next book. I know I said this before, but I’ll say it again: GRAVE MERCY is one of the best books of the year. BOOM! For serious, though. Just incredible.