Monday, March 19, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Ismae has grown up in the convent of St. Mortain, the saint (or god, according to the old beliefs) of death.  As a handmaiden of death, Ismae is an assassin - she finds the men marked by Mortain and kills them.  Ismae never doubts Mortain or the convent or questions why the men she kills are marked.  When Ismae is sent out of the most important mission of all, protecting the duchess of Brittany from an unknown traitor, she encounters one who makes her question her beliefs and her blind faith in the convent.

I thought this was going to be terrible.  I was completely underwhelmed by the description, sounded like a typical "how will she do what she has to do when she's fallen in love with the hot guy she was suppose to do something bad to" whatever and also snore.  WRONG.  This was, in fact, awesome.  I was delightfully surprised.  I love when that happens.

I was startled with how the book started off.  The opening scene is Ismae being sold into marriage by her father and then almost raped by her new husband, who upon finding a mark on her body proceeds to beat her instead and then lock her in a cellar.  It was a very intense start.  It also let me know that this was not going to be a fluffy romance with a fantasy twist.  It looked at some pretty serious issues, including obeying orders of those your trust without thinking.

Ismae is brought to the convent where she happily finds her place, far away from men.  It seemed that most of the women at the convent had had similar experiences with men in the outside world, and there was a general feeling of fear and hatred toward them.  When Ismae is sent on her mission, she is forced to work with a man named Duval, who the convent is suspicious of being the traitor.  Ismae soon sees that Duval is devoted to the duchess, who is also his half-sister.  Duval believes in redemption, something Ismae has never considered.  She begins to wonder what would happen if instead of killing someone who is marked, the person had a chance to truly repent their traitorous action and do good?  Would the mark disappear?  Did she kill people who might actual do something to help the duchess, even if they had done something wrong in the past?

Ismae has never thought like this before, and finds herself in deep conflict.  She wants to serve Mortain and she wants to do what the convent tells her to, but as time passes, Ismae begins to fear that the convent is getting false information from the traitor and the abbess tells Ismae to kill someone she has no desire to kill.

Ismae also finds herself developing feelings for Duval, which is another source of conflict for her.  She has no desire to give up serving Mortain to be someone's wife, but she does love Duval.  It reminded me a lot of Graceling, and how Katsa loved Poe, but was not willing to give up her freedom for it.

Grave Mercy is the first in a series, and I'm looking forward to seeing what choices Ismae makes.  Grave Mercy comes out April 3, 2012.

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