Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
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?
I had to wait so long to read this book because it had about a million holds on before I could get it. And I am so glad I waited. This is one of the best books I read in 2012, I think.
At first, I wasn't too sure if I would like it. It's set in Brittany (that's medieval France, if you can't recall) in 1485, which is, for whatever reason, not one of my favourite time periods. I guess I've just read too many books set in this time that I just didn't like.
But this one did not fall into that category of 'just didn't like'. Not in the least.
Just to start off- Ismae, the main character, is probably one of the most kick-ass heroines I've ever read about. In fact, all of the characters were fun to read about and not a single one made me annoyed, not once. I don't think if I've ever read a book about assasins before, and I can't possibly think there was a better book to start with. I love the concept of the convent and the take on religion; it made the whole book more interesting to me.
From the start, the pacing of this book was spot-on. It didn't waste time following Ismae from Timbuktu and back as she journeyed from her home(and away from her abusive arranged-marriage husband) to the convent, or as she spent time at the convent (I do kind of wish there was a bit more on that, just because I'm curious, not for plot-sake, but can you imagine how long this book would be if the author spent more time on this sort of thing? It's already 549 pages long!) and instead it sped(nawww, not the right word, more like... cruised) through, set the stage, and jumped in to the story with just the right amount of time to understand where Ismae was coming from and what the background of the story was like. I don't think there was a single part of the book where I got bored or it felt like it dragged on.
The book also incorporated many terms and words that are either not used much or at all anymore, or have a different meaning now. Depending on your preferences I guess this could be good or bad, but for me it was a plus. For me, it helped to draw me in to the world more. It was also written in first person, which isn't always a favourite for me, but I really really enjoyed it in this book. It fit first person more than it would have fit third person.
The romance aspect of this book was a nice addition. It was believable (as in, it made sense that the characters were drawn to each other, and not just added in for razzle-dazzle.) and added that extra spark to the book, even if it was a little bit predictable at times(the romance, that is). If I lived in the 1400's I think I'd call myself pretty lucky to have someone such as Duval courting me ;)
The overall plot had me not wanting to put the book down ever. I read all 500-some pages in about five days, it was that intriguing. As soon as I though I had it all figured out, something else would be revealed and the whole story would be a complete mystery all over again.
Overall, I think this is a must-read in the YA department. It's full of traitors and plots and awesome characters and kick-ass-ery and romance and intrigue and assassin-nuns-who-might-just-be-ninjas.
What's more, the sequel, Dark Triumph, comes out in April and the pre-release reviews are already better than for Grave Mercy.
Plus, it has a map. Bonus points from me.
The Good: Plot, pacing, clothing, characters, romance
The Bad: Since Ismae is an assassin, I was expecting more actual assassinations and some more action. Hopefully that will be to come in the sequel.
The Verdict: 5/5 stars