Every month, our club votes on which book we will read for that month. November’s winning book was Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy. The following review is based on an online discussion after November’s meeting.
Living in Brittany in 1485, Ismae has escaped a cruel future with her abusive father and an arranged marriage. She finds refuge with a convent – one dedicated to St. Mortain, the god of Death, and she learns that she has been blessed with deadly gifts. If she accepts them, the sisters will allow her to be trained as an assassin and serve as Death’s Handmaiden. First though, she must decide if she is willing to take the lives of those the god marks for death.
Ismae’s final test before taking her vows involves the high court of Brittany, where she must pose as a mistress to Gavriel Duval, a puzzling man who may be guilty of treason. Seduction and acting coy are not Ismae’s preferred skill set, but the stakes are high. The young duchess Anne is under siege from several of her most trusted advisors to accept a marriage alliance from any number of politically savvy, if personally undesirable, suitors. Someone close to Anne is plotting against her and Ismae must discover who it is and what their sinister plans are, all while preventing a devastating war.
November’s hostess chose this book to be voted on because “it’s one of my favorites on girl empowerment – kind of the theme I went with for choices!” Club members voted for this book because they were interested in the historical aspect of it and because they liked the concept of a convent that serves a god of death.
What We Liked:
We really enjoyed Ismae’s character development throughout the story, especially the challenges to her preconceived ideas and her resolve to become the woman she wants to be. A consistent theme throughout this book is choices. No matter what is happening, there are ALWAYS options.
The author emphasizes strength in individuals, regardless of gender or class, and reinforces appreciation of inner beauty as well as physical. It offers a wonderful representation of a woman coming into her own, despite the biases and limitations of the times. One of our members had this to say: “This book showed that you can still believe in your faith, you just don’t have to do it the way everyone says to.” We also appreciated that the author didn’t shy away from dark, ugly elements in the story. Ismae has a very dark background and as difficult as those scenes might be to read, they gave needed insight into Ismae’s character and added depth to the story as a whole.
What We Didn’t Like:
Because this was based in a real place and the plot ties in closely with real events of that time, we would have liked to see richer descriptions of the clothing, the buildings, and the landscapes of Brittany. Ismae’s convictions are tested, and it appears as though she has no doubts in her superiors until an attractive man gives her reason to consider them. This could be inferred to mean that, for all of her inner strength, Ismae still needed the guidance of a man to reach salient conclusions. A few members also felt that the real villain was too obvious, although that isn’t true for all.
Overall, we think this story is darkly intriguing and several of us have already begun reading the next book, Dark Triumph.
Fangirls’ Rating: 4.75/5 stars.
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