"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 might have liked this book more were I not inadvertently comparing it to Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. The teaser text indicates political intrigue and romance, and while Ismae may not be a god-touched courtesan, she is a god-touched assassain, and both Phedre and Ismae are trained in the arts of subterfuge, spying, and seduction. The plots have some similarities as well, though to give LaFevers credit, the main political events are based on events in history she researched. It just happens that a young female regent beset by suitors, traitors among her inner circle, and at risk of war with invaders makes for a good plot concept.
The point of all this is to admit that my feelings towards the book are unfortunately biased, and I'm not sure if I am properly compensating for this bias.
I wanted more out of the book. More excitement, more capturing of my attention. This is a book about a god-touched assassin in a cesspit of intrigue and betrayal. And, in theory, a good dosage of lust (for power, sex, or other). Ismae sort of floats through the events.
It's hard to write a 13 year-old duchess well. I liked Anne, but her age never registered to me until the end when they talk about her wedding. The characters seemed to be in three nebulous age groups. "Older" - particularly encompassing the slovenly and power-hungry suitors; "Adult" - we'll say late teens through mid 20's, but they all read as about the same age, even when they were in fact a 13 year old duchess; and "Child." That being said, we are talking about a society when young teens were expected to act as adults.
Grave Mercy does one thing well. It does not treat the reader like an idiot just because the intended audience are teens. It actually reads as a respectable historical fantasy with a tone appropriate to teens, though I suppose any amount of sex will make some parents uncomfortable.
Kirkus does speak favorably of this book, describing it as a "page turner - with grace."
Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.