Thursday, 20 September 2012

Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

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’m sorry, assassin nuns? Say no more, I am sold. Completely.

Really all it took were a couple of very good reviews from other bloggers and those two little words and I was completely sold on the idea of this book, and I’m relieved to say it more than lived up to my expectations.

It’s just such a fresh concept, I can honestly say I have never come across a book about assassin nuns before, and if you have, please point me in their direction! I am in a fantasy kind of mood at the moment, and this one really hit all the right areas for me. Feisty and fabulous heroine who knows her way around her weapons and poisons? Check. Fabulously grumpy hero who is secretly awesome buried underneath all that hostility? Check. Politics and intrigue and a country on the verge of war? Check. Evil undertones and villains? Check. It had everything  that I like in a good fantasy novel, and as a result it was my favourite book during August.

As I said, I loved Ismae. She was just the right amount of kick ass and vulnerability so she doesn’t come across as arrogant at all. She has her moments of cockiness, but it’s balanced out by plenty of self doubt that make her into a fantastic heroine who really drew me into the story. You feel for her right from the start of the story, and you can’t help but want her to succeed and unravel the mystery before it’s too late.

All of the characters were fully formed and three dimensional and they all served a purpose, and it was like stepping into a fantastic world that I have been waiting to find. And I love that when I find a book that it feels like I’ve been waiting for someone to write it, and they’ve dipped into my head and pulled out things I like and meshed them into a fantastic story. It was an intricate plot, full of old gods and saints and weapons and poisons and romance and I loved it. Can you tell?

I am sucker for the romance where they really don’t like each other to start with – there’s tension, there are sparks, there are long lingering looks and then everything all comes together after a suitably agonising length of time and it is pure awesome – see my love of ‘Poison Study’ by Maria V Snyder for more examples of my love of this particular type of romance. And Grave Mercy has it in bucket loads, which makes me insanely happy and I may have squeed a little bit.

My only issue is that Ismae’s doubts meant that I doubted everything, right down to all the ‘gifts’ from the god, so I kind of felt like most of the novel I was waiting for her to discover it was all lies and elaborate ploys, and that tension didn’t really relax at all. I loved the tension, but I would have liked a little assurance earlier on that some of Mortmain’s gifts were real in their own right and not just when the convent sends her out on missions.

If you’re after a fantastic romance, and a brilliant new series then Grave Mercy is definitely for you. Reminiscent of Kristin Cashore and Maria V Snyder, this is a brilliant fantasy debut full of all the things I love best about fantasy.

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