**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?**
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.
"'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.