Premise: Ismae joins the convent of Mortain, the god of death, where she trains to become his assassin. Her most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she falls in love with her target, the illegitimate brother of the young duchess, Anne of Brittany. Historical Fantasy, 2012.
What I Liked: (1) The setting! This is good YA historical romance/fantasy. Brittany comes alive with the well-researched detail. The setting and atmosphere are the lovely, shining things about this novel. (2) Castle intrigue, how I love it. The big mystery is, “Who is betraying the duchess?” And the story really is about a conflicted and inexperienced, yet competent assassin fighting to protect the true royal of Brittany. It never devolves into a simple romance plot. The pacing slows down, at a few points, but I never lost interest, after I was hooked by the action in chapter six.
Other Stuff: (1) I didn’t like the first few melodramatic chapters—Okay, everyone, GO HATE ISMAE, the PERFECTLY INNOCENT ANGEL CHILD THAT NOBODY LOVES! Make her life A MISERY!!!!!!!—an irritation that was emphasized, in part, by the first-person present tense. But I got over that fairly quickly—by chapter six, I was hooked. (2) The characters are…well, their personalities aren’t very unique. Their motivations are, but they all sound the same, including Ismae. I think the first-person present tense also contribute to this. But the setting is enough of a character to make up for it. (3) The romance in Grave Mercy is both beautiful and melodramatic. They can’t just say, “Yeah, I think I’m in love with you. Let’s shake it up, baby.” No, it has to be all frustrated and shy and irritating. Siiiiiigh. Also, [Highlight to Read Spoiler:]I really wish we could have seen the wedding—because despite Ismae’s stupidly “strong career woman” answer to her man’s proposal, we know they’re going to get hitched. NOVELLA PLZ! (4) I wish there had been time for more about Ismae’s physical training, but the author would likely have needed to write two or three books (with separate adventures) to do it justice; and while this book is part of a trilogy, books two and three star different protagonists. I’m just going through Tamora Pierce withdrawals (since forever) and I haven’t found anything quite so spectacular to replace her females actually being knights and stuff, yet. There were some great scenes, though, wherein Ismae showed off her skills.
Overall: This story has flaws, but it’s quite engaging and well-crafted. I’m definitely going to read book II and possibly book III.
Recommendation: For readers who might like historical romance without tons of sex. For teens who are interested in history and light fantastical elements. Don’t read this if you’re weary of the common romantic pitfalls. There is no love triangle, but as I said, the romance isn’t the strong point of this story.
Also, the book trailer is fun!