Grave Mercy is the first of Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin series. It takes place in Brittany in the late 1400s. The Duke has recently died, leaving 12-year-old Anne facing many suitors for her hand and her kingdom.
Ismae, the daughter of a turnip farmer, is unaware of the precarious situation in her country. Her world is the small village where she grew up abandoned by her mother and brutalized by her father. When her circumstances can get no worse, she finds salvation at the hands of strangers who secret her away to the convent of St. Mortain, the ancient god of Death. Her days are spent learning swordfighting, poisons and their uses, hand-to-hand combat, and the “womanly arts” because as a handmaiden of Death, she must be ready to use any means necessary to fulfill Mortain’s will.
During her trials to prove her readiness for service, she meets Gavriel Duval, one of the young duchess’ most trusted advisors. Duval catches Ismae moments after she killed a traitor who was marked for death by the saint. He follows Ismae to the convent where he tries to get the reverend mother to cooperate with his need to catch and question the traitors before they are killed. The reverend mother neatly traps him into taking Ismae with him to court in Guerande so as to keep the convent better informed of the factions warring for the kingdom.
Viscount Crunard, chancellor of Brittany, and the reverend mother put another task to Ismae, keep Duval under surveillance to determine if he is the traitor working against the Duchess.
Now Ismae faces court intrigue, complex family dynamics and the unfamiliar feelings of falling in love. But while out of her element, she doesn’t sit idly by and wait for orders from the Convent, nor does she follow every directive from Duval. She shows spunk and an appealing independence. Her training as an assassin and special talents as a follower of Mortain come in handy more than once.
And while Ismae grows impatient waiting for her saint to indicate who among the many suspects she should kill, time is running out for the young Duchess as France makes moves to invade.
Grave Mercy is a fast-paced story based on actual people and events. While the first of a series, it neatly stands alone. Don’t get me wrong, I want to read what comes next, but I wasn’t left unsatisfied after I read the last page. I can see this book, and the rest of the series, appealing to adults as well as young adults. The main characters are well-developed, and the supporting cast is interesting. And did I mention the falling in love part? Well-written and satisfyingly believable.
I particularly enjoyed listening to the audiobook which was skillfully narrated by Erin Moon. She did a terrific job changing her inflections for the different characters. I especially liked hearing the correct pronunciation of the character and city names. The audiobook is about 14 hours long.
Check the WRL catalog for Grave Mercy
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Grave Mercy