by Robin LaFevers
Read From: June 25, 2012 - June 28, 2012
Cover Blurb: I like the girl in the red dress holding the crossbow. I don’t even mind all that much that you can see the girl’s face, especially since she isn’t looking at the Reader (in other words, me). I think it all seems mysterious and historical and intriguing. But I don’t like the title’s font. Too blocky. It looks like it would be more appropriate for a dystopian or dark romance novel.
What I Liked: Gavriel Duval is a relatively likable male protagonist. He is honorable, and his deep devotion to the duchess is touching. While Ismae didn’t really stand out too much to me as a character, she didn’t particularly annoy me, and she’s a fairly convincing assassin. The whole setup with the convent of Mortain gave me pleasant memories of the Dark Brotherhood in the RPG computer game The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion - right down to the poison names. Whenever Ismae completed a mission for them, I got that same little thrill I experienced when I finished a Dark Brotherhood quest; it brings a little smile to my face. The Author had loads of opportunities to smear Christianity, and she didn’t, which was nice. It’s always in poor taste to smear religions in a fictional work. And while Ismae distrusts men, the story never felt like it was dissolving into a tirade against the male sex. Ismae had legitimate reasons not to trust men - she’d been abused by them her whole life, and she slowly learns that not all men are like that.
What I Disliked: The romance between Duval and Ismae struck me as being very sudden. Quite literally, in one chapter she loathes and hates and distrusts him - which is okay; she initially meets him under suspicious circumstances. But then, the very next chapter, she Ismae’s can’t take her eyes off him. Really? And for being under cover, Ismae could not have been more obvious. It’s hardly a surprise that Duval suspected Ismae had orders to spy on him - and possibly to assassinate him. Ismae also jumps to a lot of conclusions about Duval, based on the word of people she knows are untrustworthy. The only reason this didn’t get super annoying is because the Author is quick to dispel Ismae’s doubt.
Believability: I confess I don’t know a whole lot about Brittany’s history, and the Author has no historical notes in the end of her book. However, she has some interesting blurbs on her website about what inspired Grave Mercy, and I gathered from those that the general political issues and geographical locations are historically accurate. Ismae’s fighting sequences were believable. She relies on stealth and speed, rather than strength, when she kills, thus there is blessedly no scenes where a slight girl in her late teens is taking a man of pure muscle head-on.
Writing Style: Unfortunately, this is yet another book in present-tense. In all seriousness, what is up with that nowadays? While I definitely wish it hadn’t been in present-tense, the style wasn’t completely unsuited for the story. It was all right. The dialogue was moderately accurate for the time period, and there weren’t any particular moments when I just groaned outright over the writing (except when the Author describes kissing a bit too enthusiastically, but I’ll talk about that in a minute). The plot “twist” is, I thought, pretty obvious, and I also have to wonder why the Author had to involve Death - as a deity - at all. The convent could have quite easily just been a place that took in abused girls and trained them to be royal assassins. In many ways, I think this would have made the story more interesting, but that is perhaps personal preference only.
Content: Here’s where things get a little muddy. There is, a little surprisingly, no language. But the Author is not afraid to put in copious sexual alludements. More than one girl is accosted - though nothing comes of it. The very first chapter ends with Ismae’s new husband undressing her in order to bed her. The handmaidens of Mortain often use their “womanly charms” to seduce their assassination targets, and of course there is the fact that Ismae is posing as Duvel’s mistress, which leads to numerous characters making sexual comments. Finally, Ismae lies with Duval in order to save his life. The only reason this book didn’t get a 2-star rating is because while the Author hints and suggests all of these things, she doesn’t detail any of it, and all of the rape scenes are interrupted in a timely manner. But she does love to describe kissing - and I mean describe. I’m seriously put off kissing for life; it’s gross.
Conclusion: It is on the predictable side, but definitely exciting and promises a sequel. The villain’s comeuppance is a little disappointing, especially after all the trouble he has caused. But I suppose it is also realistic and therefore I can’t fault it too much.
Recommended Audience: This is definitely an older-teen read, and a girl read. A few historical fiction fans might like it because of the era and the fact that it deals with a little country that few Authors write about, but the majority of history buffs may be put off by the paranormal aspect. Paranormal romance fans will definitely like it, though.
Others in the His Fair Assassin Trilogy: