March 25, 2014

Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy Robin LaFevers
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library || Hardcover; Bought || Kindle e-book

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? (from Goodreads)

Back when Grave Mercy first appeared on my radar, it sounded like it was a book that had been tailor-made for me. It featured some of my favorite story elements, including assassins (assassin NUNS, at that), political intrigue, and historical details, which should have been all the more incentive to read it. Sadly, I let it linger in the depths of my Kindle for far too long. 

Thankfully, with encouragement from my friends (Hiiiiii Shae, Gillian, Racquel, Lisa, and Cassie and Gaby too), I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago. 

Much to no one’s surprise, I liked it.

What intimidated me initially about Grave Mercy was the sheer size of the actual book. At 549 pages, it is pretty hefty, even for a person who reads a lot of long fantasy novels. I shouldn’t have worried though, as the pages started to fly by past a certain point. Before I knew it, I was finished with Grave Mercy and wanting more (and being extremely grateful that I had Dark Triumph on hand).

The most appealing aspect of Grave Mercy lies in its story. LaFevers managed to write a tale that successfully combined Ismae’s individual journey, and the political intrigue and subterfuge that concerned the entire kingdom of Brittany. There’s a lot going on, but LaFevers still manages to steer the reader through it easily with a deft hand. 

Ismae’s personal exploration in Grave Mercy involved her questioning the convent’s ways, Death’s motives and what her true life purpose was. It was really interesting to see how she was conflicted between staying faithful and obedient to what saved her from her past, even as her instincts seemed to warn her that what she was doing might not necessarily be completely right or justified. LaFevers examined Ismae’s situation well, almost as if inviting readers to ask similar questions of their own (though probably not in the context of being an assassin, a nun or both).

On the other hand, the main plot that connects this entire series is also really fascinating. It was interesting to see how the royalty and other members of the upper class in Brittany were fighting hard to maintain their independence as a country. There was a lot of political upheaval involved and plenty of secrets and betrayals too. I could not at all predict who was a friend and who was an enemy (well, except for one person who I disliked immediately) – and that actually won Grave Mercy points in its favor.

The characters are also well-formed, riddled with complexities that make their personalities conflicted and real. Ismae, our main character, is the most interesting of all, because of her role in both plots. I’ll admit that, on both counts, she was pretty kick-ass (not even just at being an assassin, but also in terms of intelligence and strategy). 

Gavriel Duval is the other person of interest, especially as a source of a lot of Ismae’s suspicion and introspection – and eventually as her romantic interest. He is incredibly strategic, observant, intelligent, a true leader among men. He is passionate about his cause, which includes being fiercely protective of and loyal to putting his sister in her proper place as duchess. 

Seriously though, with qualities like that, how could one avoid falling in love with him? Ismae certainly couldn’t help herself. I have to point out here that I really enjoyed reading about their romance. It felt like it developed at just the right pace, slow burn to the point where I was screaming (mentally) at them to just GET ON WITH IT AND KISS ALREADY. I do enjoy a well-done slow burn romance, and LaFevers has succeeded in incorporating that here.

While Grave Mercy was pretty great, I did have a few reservations. I thought the beginning felt a little bit forced, with the first 50 pages or so feeling jarring and clunky. Also, there are a lot of characters in the book, which makes it hard to remember anyone who only appears every so often. These two things didn’t overly bother me, but I’m sure other readers might appreciate the disclaimer.

The verdict? Grave Mercy was just my kind of read. It’s got a solid historical setting, strong characters and an appealing plot! While my reservations kept it from becoming a five-star favorite, it’s still lodged itself into a spot among the books I’ve really liked.


  1. Hiiii and yay! You already know my feelings, so I'll refrain from gushing, but I'm doing a little dance at the breakfast table.

  2. I am SO glad you liked this book! Many people (including me haha) are nervous to pick this book up because it's so big, but God was it a good book! Ismae is one of my favorite leading ladies and Duval - let me take a second, he's too attractive. Seriously, he's in my top 2 most attractive fictional characters list. I read the book about a year ago but I do remember thinking, like you, that the first 50 pages were a bit choppy and clunky. And getting really confused by all the characters haha. But I'm so glad you liked it! Dark Triumph is just as amazing!

    Emily@Emily's Crammed Bookshelf

  3. One cannot avoid falling in love with him. One cannot.

  4. Yessss!!!! Now on to Dark Triumph ;)

  5. I have this on my Kindle too and admit, the size does intimidate me too especially since I don't really like reading long books on my Kindle but I'm very glad to hear that you flew through it!

    I love how the book not only focuses on the MC but also the political aspect of Brittany. You've definitely made me a lot more excited to read Grave Mercy :D Thanks for the great review Alexa!

  6. Ahh! Reading your review, and remembering why I liked this one so much despite it's daunting size, is giving me the itch to pick up Dark Triumph!

    I hear your reservations. The first 50 pages I was like -_- but it all made sense! Once she got on assignment, I was hooked! :)

  8. GRAVE MERCY!!!! I'm so glad you loved it. I read this a while ago so I forgot how the first 50 pages went but this was kind of early on in my blogging career so I wasn't afraid of big books and giving them time to develop, I think. (because let's be honest. I am now hahaha)
    DUVAL. I loved their relationship and Robin LaFevers KILLED that slow burn!
    I'm so happy you enjoyed this one! It really is so well done. Love this series!

  9. I'm gonna agree with Lisa up there. THIS BOOK! It's my favorite series I think, alongside Throne of Glass and Graceling, and Dark Triumph only gets better. I'm glad your friends encouraged you to read this; had I known you needed it I would have encouraged you too! Glad you enjoyed this one and hope you get to the next chapter in this series soon!

  10. In my opinion books live or die with their characters. This book has well drawn unusual interesting characters. Writer did her homework as to the setting and story. Fun read. Sexy without actual being smutty. I look forward to the third book as I have already read the second.
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