Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes her life of brutality and an arranged marriage when she finds the convent of St. Mortain, dedicated to one of the old gods. She learns that the god of Death has blessed her with gifts allowing her to see where death will strike and being immune to poisons. At the convent, she is trained as an assassin so she can fulfill her destiny as a handmaiden to Death. Her first assignment plunges her into political intrigue at the high court of Brittany, posing as a mistress to the mysterious Gavriel Duval. Once there Ismae realizes that she isn’t prepared to play the deadly games of love and intrigue or kill the one she loves.
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This book combines my two favorite things: the medieval era and assassins. I love books about spies, assassins, etc. and so when I realized that it was also set in the medieval era I knew I just had to read it. When I’ve told others about this book, they kind of gave me a weird look saying, “someone actually wrote a book about that?” Yes, they did and it was great!
Violence: PG-13 A few assassinations, but mostly fights for survival.
Adult Content: PG-13 Two attempted rapes and a few kisses
Reading Level: Grade 7 – Adult
Here are some of the themes found in Grave Mercy.
- Abuse: Ismae comes from a physically abusive home and runs away from what would be an abusive marriage. Abuse is a depressing subject, but it isn’t described but more implied to show how far Ismae came. It also shows how it affects future relationships.
- Trust: Robin LaFevers uses the trust between Ismae and others to build tension. You wonder if Ismae should trust the information she has been given, orders, and core knowledge. She learns that she has to relearn the basis and trust her heart.
- Broken Families: The majority of families in this novel are messed up, but it shows how a group can create their own family ultimate how important it is to support each other.
- Body Image: Ismae has many scars and a long red splotch from her abusive past and violent birth. She has always dealt with body image issues but has to reveal her scars to Gavriel after a fight. He makes her feel loved and not ashamed of who she is.
- Death: Death is personified in this story and it shows an often missed side of rebirth and mercy. It is not portrayed as morbid or something to fear.
Some of my favorites:
“Whenever you are ready, or if you never are, my heart is yours….”
“When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.”
“It is this kindness of his that unsettles me most. I can dodge a blow or block a knife. I am impervious to poison and know a dozen ways to escape a chokehold or garrote wire. But kindness? I do not know how to defend against that.”
This is an amazing book! When you sit down to read it make sure you have a couple clear days and books 2 and 3 within easy reach. I loved going through the experience with Ismae. There are certain points where her personality really comes through as she breaks from the norm thinking and doing things differently. I think it’s also hilarious that she hates “the womanly arts,” yet she is posing as a lover. This set-up shows how real Ismae’s love really is and it is built on the little moments spent together. This book also shows the importance of motives behind an action. In the beginning, Ismae is killing out of revenge and to bring justice. She is also very bitter, cynical, with a pessimistic outlook on the entire human race. Throughout the book, her motive changes into one of mercy and love. She learns how to use her talents as an assassin to bring mercy and what her true destiny is. It brings her more confidence, independence, and happiness in general.
Next Books to Read
Definitely read Dark Triumph, the second book in the series, featuring Sybella. Others to read include Terrier by Tamora Pierce, A Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, and Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.