Book Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

5 Apr

Book cover for Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversTitle: Grave Mercy

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

Source: NetGalley

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.


14 Responses to “Book Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers”

  1. Candice April 5, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    I’m pretty sure that if you wrote up a resume for your blog, one of your accomplishments could be “perfecting the art of New Girl-ing books” because seriously… kudos on that! I didn’t really need any more incentive or push to read this, because I’m already excited about it, but if I hadn’t been your excitement over it would definitely make me want to read Grave Mercy!

  2. A. Knight April 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    WHY HAVEN’T I FINISHED THIS BOOK ALREADY?!? My mom decides to barge into my time for ‘girls’ night,’ and I was forced to put the book down and I WAS SO INTO IT. And now my plans for today are messing things up again, dammit. I want to find a nice, quiet cave to sit still for hours and read this freaking book. I WANT TO MEET DUVAL ALREADY. :K


  3. Heidi April 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    Blew your expectations to pieces with a MINI HAND CROSSBOW!! This review is one of those FEW things in life that gets me so excited I go all girly and jump up and down and my voice raises like 2 octaves as I gush in shared excitement over this thing that I absolutely LOVED and you absolutely LOVED and how much I LOVE that you LOVED it! And seriously? I laughed so hard at your New Girl line that my boyfriend dropped what he was doing to insist I explain to him. We’re some pretty big Schmidt lovers in these here parts.

  4. April C (@booksandwine) April 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm #


    Also Historical Fantasy is the mother cussing deal. I love that noise. HARD.



    I may have a little wine inside me right now as I write this comment.

    Also, I heard a rumor you will be at BEA for a day? Let’s meet. Yes? Yes?


  1. In My Mailbox (22) « Tripping Over Books - April 7, 2012

    […] books on people. Honestly, that’s not really my style. EXCEPT when the book in question is as BANGING as GRAVE MERCY. If you like historical fiction or fantasy, PLEASE RUN NOT WALK to the bookstore or […]

  2. Recommend A…(11) « Tripping Over Books - July 30, 2012

    […] Mercy: His Fair Assassin #1 by Robin LaFevers. GUYS. I read this book in February, and it remains one of my favorite books of the year. Assassin nuns in medieval France who are basically the minions of Death, killing people whom he […]

  3. Top Ten Tuesday (39) « Tripping Over Books - August 7, 2012

    […] GRAVE MERCY […]

  4. Top Ten Tuesday (41) « Tripping Over Books - August 21, 2012

    […] Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers. Assassin nuns, HOLLA! Seriously, GRAVE MERCY is one of the best historical fiction/fantasies I’ve ever read, and it’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read, probably ever. It was just such […]

  5. Top Ten Tuesday (51) « - November 13, 2012

    […] twistiness is one of my favorite things to read, especially if I’m in a thinking mood, and GRAVE MERCY has loads of that, […]

  6. Top Ten Tuesday (53) « - November 27, 2012

    […] first book in this series, GRAVE MERCY, was outstanding. It blended solid historical fiction with some intense, vaguely paranormalish fantasy. Friends, it […]

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    […] to me–but I really LOVED the characters and the political scheming and the danger in GRAVE MERCY. It makes me really excited to check out her Theodosia Throckmorton series about a young girl in […]

  8. Top Ten Tuesday (56) « - December 18, 2012

    […] first thing that grabbed me about GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers was the cover. LOOK AT THE CROSSBOW. Look at it. But what makes me love it still, and what made me […]

  9. Peace Out, 2012: End of Year Book Survey « - December 28, 2012

    […] Genre: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (historical fiction, paranormal), Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood (paranormal, historical […]

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    […] Triumph: His Fair Assassin #2 by Robin LaFevers. So, GRAVE MERCY was one of my favorite books of 2012. It was full of political drama, vaguely supernatural doings, […]

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