Thursday, May 17, 2012

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 loved the beginning of Grave Mercy. It’s harrowing, emotional, intriguing and grabs you from the start: horrific, yet emotionally compelling back story. Mysterious night trip to a nunnery on an island. Assassin nuns. Boarding school intrigue. Poisons. Masterly constructed weapons and gadgetry. Secrets and oaths.

Here I was all primed for a kick-ass medieval assassin, and as soon as Ismae is unleashed in the world... things sizzle right down. Instead of being a wild, brilliant sneaky little assassin, her potions and gadgets get less of a work-out as readers have to sit through pages of political intrigue. Did I say intrigue? It was not overly intriguing. Such a fantastic premise was coupled with such a bland political plot. Pages of council meetings and trying to keep up with which political dude wants what, what they really want and who is betraying whom, etc. It felt confusing, keeping track of everyone, yet the political plot itself was simple: the whole mid section of the book was about who the duchess should marry. 

This major political plot line felt like a waste of an assassin premise. Like I had been promised one kind of (exciting, original, dashing) story and somehow fell into a medieval political snoozefest instead.

It is not all just politics. There is, of course, some romance. And I have mixed feelings about this as well. It, too, began with promise. Compelling antagonism and a hint of chemistry bubbling away, but then it fell into a predictable format and by the culmination at the end, I felt nothing. I am not sure why it did not work for me? Perhaps because Ismae seemed out of character in the romantic scenes? Hmm...

The Climax: the author went the whole way, raising the stakes to the highest point. Yet, it was done in such a way that I felt zero tension and no anticipation. I knew the author would not be willing to sacrifice that which her story was threatening to ~ and so sat waiting back for the author to create her magical loop hole promising a happy ending. 

Overall, regarding my personal enjoyment of Grave Mercy: I started off engaged and intrigued. If I was to make a graph, my interest would start out deliciously high and then drop to a steady decline from the middle of the book to a fizzed out ending. Okay, add a a few blips of increased interest at intermittent romantic intervals (I am always on the look out for some swoon, it was slow building enough to add tension, but ultimately just short of bringing enough spark, for me).

Side note: Pet peeve: making YA villains not just evil in their intent, but also ugly, fat and repulsive to look at (and horny in that filthy underage way. Argh.). Why? So unimaginative. 

Also: did French women really paint their nipples with rouge? O.o

Oh: and I felt some confusion about what elements were fantasy from the author and which parts had historical basis? I am clearly not an expert on this genre.

Recommend for fans of historical, political intrigue in a lite manner ;) 

Thanks Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the ecopy 

10 comments:

  1. Starts off with such a bang, what a bummer it fizzles. I just assumed this was fantasy, which I like but I enjoy historical fiction too; maybe a good one to borrow from the library?

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  2. I've ordered a copy of this, and I have high hopes for it. I'm desperate for some good YA historical novels.

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  3. "Also: did French women really paint their nipples with rouge? O.o" I'm french and I've never heard that ^^.

    I've also ordered a copy of Grace Mercy and I have high expectations for it. I'm a huge fan of historical books :).

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  4. I'm a big fan of historical fiction, so hopefully I enjoy it more than you. Seriously, historical + fantasy = happy times for Cass. :) This sounds like one of those books I'll need to keep notes on, which is kind of fun. I'll save this book for holidays though. Always glad to hear what you have to say Nomes. Sorry this didn't quite connect with you but I so understand. It's disappointing when you're expecting something really epic with that beginning, and then it just doesn't deliver.

    Well, the fact that you finished it says something, ay?

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  5. Oh, I think I'm going to delete this from my kindle - I snagged a copy from netgalley and then I was like "this book has how many pages? Dude, Seriously?" but I hear good things about it so I said, maybe some day.

    Now I'm sure I won't like it.

    I get so BORED with political intrigue and this doesn't even sound like good political intrigue!

    Hate when a book doesn't deliver.

    And up to the late 1700's, women did paint their nipples, mostly it was courtesans, though. Or risque women of the court. :P

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  6. I'm sorry this one didn't really work for you Nomes! I can totally see you're point though. If you go in expecting a lot of action, assassination, and just general butt-kicking and get political machinations up the wazoo, it can be a bit of a let down.

    If you are interested in what was history/what was hers, Robin LaFevers wrote up a decent blog post about it here.

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  7. Aw man, I used to come over here like once a week when you were on hiatus and I didn't realize you'd been being a diligent blogger these days:) I know I already know a bit about how you felt about this one but no matter what I hear about this book, I'm still going to read it. These stories, even if they do fizzle out or follow a predictable plot, are like a drug to me. And the French ladies comment--THEY DID?!

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  8. bwahaha on the nipple rouge comment. I would venture to say yes? I'm not an expert on it either though. Sounds like a book I'll be passing on. I don't like when I'm promised one thing only to get another.

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  9. Mmm i'm not a big fan of historical politics so i'm not sure i would like this which is a shame becuase the cover is so pretty!

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  10. Upon finishing this book, the critical reviewer in me had a bad moment. It raised its hackles and started stalking back through the book for something to comment on, something that annoyed me, something that stuck out. It took me a really long moment to realize that I had just simply enjoyed this book.

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Thanks for the commenty love :)

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