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Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His…
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Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy) (edition 2012)

by Robin LaFevers

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Title:Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy)
Authors:Robin LaFevers
Info:Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (2012), Hardcover, 560 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

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English (159)  German (2)  All languages (161)
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Summary: "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 expell me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign that I have been sired by the god of death himself." So begins the story of Ismay, a young woman living in fifteenth century France. Saved from a disastrous wedding to a loutish man, Ismay is spirited off to the convent of Saint Mortain. There, the sisters train girls like Ismay to be the handmaidens of death - to recognize the marks that Mortain puts on those who must die, and to carry out the assassinations by a number of means… including poison, Ismay's specialty. Soon, Ismay is being sent out on a mission of her own: protect the young Duchess of Brittany, and root out and kill the traitor in her court. The abbess sends her to court in the company of Duval, a young man who claims to be loyal to the duchess and an ally to the convent, but Ismay soon learns that Duval, like everyone at court, is hiding secrets of his own. Can she trust him while attempting to untangle the web of intrigues that surrounds the young duchess? Can she save not only the duchess's life and lands, but also her own? And how can she come to terms with what is expected of her by her convent, by her god, and by her loyalty to Brittany, when those three things are not necessarily working to the same end?

Review: I really enjoyed this book. I hadn't been reading much historical fiction lately, and I'd missed it, so this was a welcome change to my usual fare. As historical fiction goes, it wasn't the most historical I've ever read - LaFevers doesn't spend a lot of time on the "set dressing", so the story doesn't feel particularly grounded in a specific time (other than "vaguely medieval"). There are also parts that are pretty anachronistic - the main conceit of the book, the convent of teenage female assassins, for one! - but also some of the dialogue and attitudes of the characters didn't quite jibe with the period. (Obviously I don't want a book where the characters are speaking in Medieval French the whole time, but there were some modern terms and phrasings that just caught my ear wrong.)

But the lack of emphasis on the set dressing left plenty of emphasis on the story, which was a-okay by me. Ismay's story is full of intrigue, plenty of action, and some nicely-done romance (nicely-done in that it is a solid plot thread that intertwines nicely with the other elements of the story without completely taking them over.) I also liked that the conflict was not all external; Ismay having to examine her own conflicting loyalties added a nice depth to the character and the story. I did have a little trouble at times keeping the various threads of intrigue and scheming clear in my mind, mostly because I had some trouble keeping all the characters straight in my mind (a common problem for me, especially when the characters have names from a language I don't speak, and I'm listening to the audiobook rather than reading… the foreign syllables tend to blur together in my mind.) But I got the main characters and their loyalties sorted out clearly enough by the end, and really enjoyed the journey to get there (although I wish more time had been spent on Ismay's training; a lot of her time in the convent was glossed over, which was a shame, since I thought that would have been interesting). Apart from my issues with the names, I also really enjoyed the audiobook; Erin Moon does a very nice job with the voices, keeping them distinct without sounding fake.

For all of the young adult books and all of the historical fiction books I read, I am realizing that I don't read that much young adult historical fiction. But this was such an interesting read that I think I'll need to change that - and I'll definitely be checking out the sequels, to start. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Recommended for historical fiction fans, people who like stories set in medieval France, or people who think that teenage girl assassins (a la Graceling and Poison Study) are fun to read about. ( )
  fyrefly98 | Aug 21, 2014 |
4.5 stars. Looking forward to the next one. ( )
  Mirandalg14 | Aug 18, 2014 |
This book is 549 pages long, but it was still too short for me. I was extremely entertained with Grave Mercy, more than I originally thought I would be. I could not put the book down and focus on other things, instead I needed to know what was going to happen next. Usually, I find that first books in a series don’t hold my interest enough to continue on to the second and third volumes, but I will be most definitely buying the entire series. I am thoroughly impressed with Robin LaFevers.

I loved all the characters, even the baddies. I especially loved Beast and his last scene with Ismae. Characterization in this book was so good. I cannot stress it enough. The writing is beautiful, but not pretentious, and keeps you guessing until the very end. ( )
  CinaChilders | Aug 13, 2014 |
I am not a big fan of paranormal stories, but that aspect of this book is fairly minor. The historical fiction aspects were well done and I found the setting of 1480s Brittany fascinating.

Erin Moon did an excellent narration - I look forward to listening her narrate other audiobooks. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jul 4, 2014 |
This is a book about assassin nuns and that’s probably all you need to know to guess how crazy awesome it’s going to be! However, for the sake of thoroughness… The book focuses on Ismae, a girl whose near death marked her as a servant of Mortain, the god of death. When she flees an arranged marriage, this means there is a place for her at Mortain’s convent where she will be trained as an assassin. To date, her life has only put her in contact with brutal, cruel men and she has no qualms agreeing to go on a mission that will include killing anyone Mortain marks for death. Her experience in the real world, however, quickly makes her realize that both men and Mortain’s orders are more complex than she thought.

I had the great pleasure of attending a discussion with Robin LaFevers at the Rochester Teen Book Festival this year. I hadn’t read Grave Mercy yet, but the conversation made me certain I wanted to. It was clear that the historical research she did for this book was just fantastic. Several large plot elements and characters are based on real historical events. Even the small details, from poisons to perfume ingredients, are well researched. I loved the richness of the setting in this book and I think that research had a lot to do with it.

The main character is impressive and unique. She’s not stereotypically attractive and she’s had some bad experiences, which allows for great character growth later in the book. Ismae becomes more confident in herself and learns that not all men are evil, without doing too much swooning over them either. She also has to make some very hard decisions. The theological questions about fate and the will of god were very interesting, leading to deeper moral questions that I love and usually expect more from sci fi than from fantasy.

This book swept me away. The setting, the main character, and the moral questions were all wrapped up in constant action that made it hard for me to even pause to take notes. The ending was suitably epic and even without a cliff hanger (which I didn’t miss!), I couldn’t wait to dive into the next book. If you like fantasy or historical fiction, you should definitely listen to the hype and pick up Grave Mercy.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Jun 29, 2014 |
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LaFevers, Robinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moon, ErinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Mark, who first showed me what true love looked like.
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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 expell me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign that I have been sired by the god of death himself.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 054762834X, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2012: Seventeen-year-old Ismae was fathered by Saint Mortain, the God of Death, and one dark and stormy night, she is brought to a mysterious convent where his many daughters are trained as assassins. When she is given an important assignment to protect the Duchess of Brittany and kill the traitor in her court, Ismae begins to learn that being a handmaiden of Death may not mean what the nuns taught her. But her burgeoning independence comes with consequences, and the fate of an entire country--and the only man she could ever love--hangs in the balance. Set in medieval France with historically accurate details, Grave Mercy is the first book in a gritty, fast-paced trilogy, and gives thrilling new meaning to the term "girl power." --Juliet Disparte

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:13 -0400)

In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Brittany, seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts--and a violent destiny.… (more)

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