30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, 549 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/25/2012

When Ismae was in the womb, her mother went to an herbwitch to end the pregnancy. It succeeded only in leaving scars on Ismae’s back, indicating that she is, in reality, a daughter of death. Her father sells her into an arranged marriage to a brutish hog farmer who quickly realizes she’s not what he bargained for. Ismae is found huddled in a locked shed by the priest who performed her marriage ceremony and is taken off to a convent. It is the late 15th century in Brittany, during a brief period of independence. Many in Brittany still worship the old gods, as Ismae quickly discovers upon entering the convent. This particular convent operates in the service of St. Mortain, the god of death. Ismae is trained in a wide variety of ways to kill a person, as well as techniques in stealth, deception and seduction; anything that will allow the novices to carry out Mortain’s will. It is here in the convent that Ismae discovers the gifts that accompany her unusual parentage. For her third mission outside the convent, Ismae is sent off with a member of the Breton court, a man named Duval, in order to spy on him and assess any other risks to the young duchess, Anne, at the behest of her chief adviser, Chancellor Crunard. It doesn’t take very long at court for Ismae to realize that nearly everyone has an agenda, but whose is the biggest threat remains to be seen.
I really, really enjoyed reading this book and can only hope that the rest of the series holds up. It’s such an unusual setting and time period, which had me looking up the history of the region and its personages. Anne is indeed a very real person, an exceedingly young heir, betrothed to just about any male with the potential to help solidify her hold on the nation. There is no convent of St. Mortain (nor is there a St. Mortain, for that matter). There is, however, a region of Brittany known as Mortain, so there’s that. There are several “old gods” that were worshiped by people in the region during this era, so that much is accurate. The ins and outs of court life are told in fascinating detail and Ismae makes for a fantastic character. This novel is not so much action-driven, in spite of the fact that Ismae and her sisters are assassins, rather, it is more character-driven. Ismae’s faith is tested more than once, which forces her to question her own purpose in a society where absolutely nothing is morally black and white. This book is an epic tale with a broad range of thematic elements including, but not limited to, duty vs. individual culpability, faith and uncertainty, vengeance vs. mercy. I only wish I could have heard a bit more about Ismae’s training at the convent.

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