Review: Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers ★★★★★

Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers
Genre: Historical Romance, YA Fantasy
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
ISBN: 978-0547628349
Page Count: 560
Review Copy: Received from the publisher for an honest review

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 absolutely adored this book! If you are a fan of Maria V. Snyder's writing style you should really enjoy this too. It features the same strong plot and characterisation that you'd find with her work, with a subtle but so very compelling love story to go along with it. It's a fairly chaste love story, based more on romance than lust, but very compelling nonetheless. Anyone who enjoyed Yelena and Velek from Poison Study, or more recently Avry and Kerrick from Touch of Power, will appreciate the slow burn of the developing relationship. And it has plenty of time to develop and get under your skin, since this book weighs in at nearly 600 pages.

It's hard to categorize exactly what genre this book would fall under. It's not your typical Historical Romance (no sex: shocking), it's not a full-out fantasy book although it has fantastical elements. What it does have is a strong mystery plot with espionage, betrayals, political manoeuvring and murder. It's loosely based around actual historical events involving Anne, Duchess of Brittany, who after her father dies when she's just 12, is paraded around to every power player of the time in the hopes of marrying her off. And she has no shortage of suitors as you can imagine with the title and lands she holds. Unfortunately for Anne, each one is as unappealing as the last, and someone, it seems, is willing to eliminate the opposition at any cost.

So what they really need to ensure things go smoothly and everyone behaves themselves, is an undercover nun assassin, right? (I know that was going to be your next guess). And so we meet our main character, Ismae, who, although the price was much, much lower, has also experienced first hand what being sold off at a young age for marriage to the highest bidder feels like. Indeed, that's how most of the young ladies trained at St Mortain's came to be there. They've been beaten but not broken and are ready to right some wrongs.

Overall, the amazing characters made this book for me. Both of the main characters were very likeable as were many of the secondary characters. The writing was excellent and the plot solid and I barely noticed it was such a big book as the pacing made it very hard to put down. If I wanted to nitpick, I could find a couple of small issues of implausibility, but not enough for me to mark it down to 4 stars.

I can't wait for the next book, Dark Triumph, out in 2013 which features a very intriguing character we met briefly in this book.

5 Stars! ★★★★★
Review Copy: Received from the publisher for an honest review

Below follows a related ranty grumble about mislabelling books as YA.

I have a slight issue with the marketing of this book (this is not a negative about the actual story) It's been labelled as a YA book and I'm trying to wrack my brains as to what could possibly have made the publishers think that was a good idea. Is it simply because the protagonist is 17? (In the 15th century when you can marry at age 12 and are considered an old maid at 22, and are lucky to live to 40, this seems a lot less relevant than in a contemporary novel) Or is it because it doesn't have sex or swearing in it? Is that the only thing that counts here? Sex and swearing bad - 17 year old trained killers good? There is nothing about the themes or content of this novel that says YA to me at all, and I anticipate a lot of teens grumbling about it being boring and full of history and, like, facts and stuff.

End rant.


  1. My first impressions of Grave Mercy is that it doesn't have the look and feel of a young adult novel. The situations and characters are age appropriate for the times, and LaFevers writing while enjoyable with witty and clever comedic moments on virtually every page, seems more suited for an older audience. The author's beautiful writing may overstep typical YA prose veering into the realm of adult, but I hope that doesn't deter readers from this series. I found Grave Mercy reminiscent of Maria Snyder's Study Series, with less magic and grounded in a historical reality. Fans of period fiction and Snyder's work will find a lot to love about this book. I am not sure about the accuracy of LaFevers world building, but the book is historically believable. It was easy to get lost in the cadence of medieval dialogue, amidst all the author's vivid descriptions of customs, costumes, and landscapes. I found LaFevers to be fearless with her sometimes striking sacrifices and underlying social tones of feminine inequality, constantly referencing women being little more than another form of female currency or livestock. The characters were interesting, multidimensional, and flawed. Ismae is a heroine akin to Katniss, prepared to confront the world, who's fiercely loyal and devoted to the ones she cares for, yet completely oblivious to the love that's right in front of her. I found all the motivations, politics, hidden agendas and mythology combined to create a truly mesmerizing story.

    1. Excellent comments and I agree with them all. I am sad that I have already seen some one star reviews for this from YA readers saying how dull it was. I don't blame them of course. It says it's a YA so naturally they were expecting the usual components of such and they got absolutely none of them.

      Regardless, this is still, so far, one of my top 3 reads of the year. So far I've read 83 so it's doing well.



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