Words cannot adequately express my love for this novel, but alas I shall try to wrap my thoughts and feelings around some decent vocabulary and express the complete “WOW!” that is Grave Mercy.
First of all, let’s talk about genre. On first glance, it appears to be straight up historical fiction. However, there is a fantasy element that just blows me away. It’s evocative and new with a sense of high fantasy…meaning it is almost like this is a new world rather than our own…yet many of the events of the larger historical plot actually happened in history. This, at first, might appear daunting and perhaps too much. Yet, Robin LaFevers does this so beautifully, so cleverly, and so seamlessly that you can hardly tell where history stops and fantasy begins.
Which leads me to plot. Oh the gloriously, gorgeous plot. Deliciously complex and perfectly paced, this novel had me engrossed from page one to the very last word. I was left dying for more of the world and its characters. I loved the fact that history was actually the b-plot and that LaFevers kept you on the edge of your seat as you learned with Ismae who she could trust and who she could not. Her search for her purposed in life and the mercy she longs for in her life as an assassin made for an enthralling read.
Along with the plot, LaFevers builds characters the reader wants to know, love, hate, kill, etc. She does this so well, that is seems effortlessly tied to plot development. Every time her characters open their mouths, it gives the reader another glimpse into who they are. Not all authors can do that. The secondary characters are amazing, filling out the story in a realistic and completely necessary way. I particularly adored Anne, duchess of Brittany. For one so young she is startlingly practical and mature. The villian(s) is(are) deliciously evil, misguided, and vile. This novel is full of such a fulfilling cast, it makes for a delightful read. The romance was built at a smooth, smoldering pace which was perfect and incredibly fulfilling.
Ismae, our heroine, is an assassin nun. It’s believe that the nuns of St. Mortain–the Breton god of death–are his daughters and therefore trained in his art as assassins. She’s learned more ways to kill a person than anyone ever should. She’s been trained for just about any situation, yet she’s also endearingly naive about much of the practical application of the simpler things in life. Having been hated by her family and pretty much everyone important in her life, she has no idea how to truly love or be loved by anyone outside her convent. She’s brilliant and beautiful and strong yet also fragile and damaged. Her growth and perspective were truly captivating.
Gavriel Duval. Holy swooning, ladies. The dude takes charming to a whole new level. In an effort to remain un-spoilery, let’s just say…he’s sort of a big deal to the Breton royal family. He’s just about as broken and damaged as Ismae, yet he has remained kind and gentle if you can get through all his layers of strength and brashness. He is strong and constant and brave, yet he has some serious “Mommy issues.” ;o) Incredibly wonderful book boy…er…man.