{review} GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers

**Bookworms, do you like this new review format better with the official information at the bottom?  Should I remove the official summary completely, since I usually add a little in my review?  I always think that my summary alone doesn't do a book the justice the official summary does, but what do you think?  Do you read it?  What do you think about the inclusion of the first line and a link to the chapter?**

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

"I BEAR A DEEP RED stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch's poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb.  That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I  have been sired by the god of death himself."  
(pg. 1, US Hardcover Edition)

 While GRAVE MERCY is categorized as YA, it has one foot in the adult fiction category as well.  Novels like this one show how rich and diverse the genre can be.  I love a good fantasy, especially one as layered and textured as this.  It twines lush, slow-building romance (No insta-love here, rejoice!) with political intrigue, deft mystery, and the lore of Death's handmaiden.  Plus, there are female assassins.  Win!  The story unfurls at its own pace and never feels rushed.  Rather, it's one I want to savor.  If you're looking at the fact that GRAVE MERCY is Book I in the HIS FAIR ASSASSIN series, fear no more: This is not one of those stories.  Ismae's tale is self-contained, as are the following novels, though I expect that familiar faces will come back in passing.  The second book, DARK TRIUMPH, will center around Sybella, whom we meet briefly in GRAVE MERCY.  My guess is that the third (and likely final) book in the series, DARK HOPE, will revolve around Annith, a third girl from the convent of Saint Mortain.

Many of the characters in GRAVE MERCY are centered around real people that lived, making the novel historical fantasy, which can be richer than traditional fantasy when factoring in all of the original research.  Robin LaFevers posted an in-depth author's note on her website rather than in her novel so that readers wouldn't be pulled out of the story.  Ismae, the novel's main character, is wholly original, as is Lord Gavriel Duval, the man with whom Ismae leaves the covent on a mission to discover who has been betraying Brittany to the French.  The characters were both detailed and well-fleshed out.  As the novel progressed, we learned more about each one and watched their wariness of one another move tentatively to trust and onward to something deeper.  Ismae is such a complex character.  Her story begins with betrayal:  Her father sells her into an abusive marriage, and only after her escape does she discover the convent of Saint Mortain, a place where she can learn how to be her father Death's handmaiden, a female assassin.
For example:

"'DON'T YOU WISH to learn the arts of Mortain?' I ask. 'How to kill those who have done this to you?' ...'They have promised to teach me of poison...and other ways to kill a man...They will train us in stealth and cunning and give us such skills that no man will ever be a threat to us again.'

Sybella turns toward me, a glint of interest in her eyes, but that is all I know of this new life I've been promised.  I look helplessly at the nuns.

Annith steps easily into the opening I have made. 'They will teach you of all manner of weapons, she says, coming more fully into the room.  'They will show you how to wield a dagger and a stiletto.  How to shoot an arrow and draw a bow...'"  

(pgs. 28 ~ 29, US ARC; changes may be made before book launches in print...my copy is on the way so I can't cross-check this part!)

Once she has spent three years training at the convent, Ismae is giving a position at Lord Duval's side to be the eyes and ears of Mortain, dealing justice to anyone found to be an enemy of Brittany.  She is told to trust no one, and is properly careful around Duval.  And Duval!  This man is one of my favorite heroes to sweep his way into the fantasy genre in quite some time.  I loved the way his character was built up.  LaFevers pulls back layer after layer, revealing him like an onion until you can't help but love him and his unwavering loyalty.  He shares a strong connection with Ismae; their relationship is never forced or rushed the way it is in so many teen novels.  Both characters have reasons to guard their hearts, so when they let that guard down, the result is beautiful and deep.

GRAVE MERCY has been on my "to read" list since the publishing deal went through in 2010.  I coveted it long before the awesome cover reveal that made everyone sit up and take notice.  Sometimes when this happens, my expectations are too high and the book can never meet the lofty bar I've set for it.  And that's always my fault, never the book's.  With GRAVE MERCY, however, I never felt let-down.  I was captivated from the moment I picked the book up and I couldn't put it down until I had turned the last page.  It has been so hard waiting so long to share my thoughts with all of you due to the review embargo; I'm glad that the book's release date is finally upon us so that you can get ahold of this brilliant novel and sink into it yourself.  It's so well-done that I've already re-read parts and will do so again when the finished copy I ordered arrives in the mail next week.

C O V E R   D E S I G N:

This cover is all I ever wanted and more.  When I first received my ARC in the mail, my cover looked like this. -->

I was intrigued by the beautiful font used for the series title and the icon of a wolf stating, "Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?"

I wanted to know more!

I was excited when the book's cover was finally revealed in November and posted a Cover Crazy detailing why I loved the cover so much.  Here's what I said:
This cover has atmosphere. It's definitely a fantasy, though with the weapon she's wielding, she could also be a vampire slayer (Not saying she IS because I know she isn't, but the paranormal crowd might see this and pick it up!!). Her dress is lovely and fits the time period. I love the building in the background.
And to expand on my initial thoughts, SERIOUSLY.  Does that crossbow look sick or what?  The model looks so bad-ass, the weather is perfectly stormy, and that dress cries out historical fantasy.  Who wouldn't pick this up and take a look?  The only thing that might make someone put it down again is that the final hardcover edition looks MASSIVE.  I never felt like the book was 500 pages when reading it, and the ARC is much more slender than the bound copy, though I'm sure it's just the way it printed.  For those of you who fear a big book, don't let this one thing hold you back.  After all, the longer the fantasy, the better the book.  If it's too short, it's in danger of feeling rushed! ^.~

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Robin LaFevers
Release Date: Out April 03, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Received: Review copy courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
(Though I HAVE purchased a final copy that should arrive any day!)


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?


  1. I like the format! Everything is so neat and clean. Makes me want to put more info in my posts. I especially like having the first line from the book, though I've never done it.

  2. YAY!!! Glad you loved it. And DUVAL!!! Goodness, the build up between him and Ismae was intense. <3

  3. Love the new format! Just wish the print was a little bigger. (And I don't read the summary until I read the rewview, so having it at the bottome is perfect for me!)

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  6. Ok, here's my take on your new formatting. I think its really elegant. The layout is clean, but the font is a little small. Since you have a picture at the top of the blog post, I think the official information works well at the bottom along with the Cover Design blurb. I like the dotted boxes around the text, they are complimentary to the post.

  7. The heroine is somehow accessible and relatable, even though she an assassin! And the love story makes me want to melt inside every time... Makes me wish I was a daughter of Death.
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