Sorry if I get any story facts wrong here, because the day after I finished Grave Mercy, I lent it out. It’s meant to be shared. A lot of others have talked about how cool it is to have an assassin novitiate as a heroine, and I think that’s because Ismae’s paradoxical profession gets to the crux of it all. How do you serve Mortain, god of Death and still remain a decent human being? Ismae is trained at a convent in the deadly arts and excels, except for the womanly arts of seduction which are—as we all know—also considered lethal. All the girls there are misfits, and are happy to have a place to call home, even if it means offing whoever the God of Death messages to the seeress who then passes the message along to the abbess who then sends out one of her trainees. Ismae completes two missions when she’s assigned to become the mistress of Gavril Duval, whom the abbess suspects of playing double agent. But when Gavril Duval proves his loyalty time and time again, Ismae must question the authenticity of her calling. What’s the right thing to do? What is the price of following your heart? And can the heart be trusted?
Of course, Robin LaFevers does all the right things in her debut novel. She writes a superbly paced novel, creates a sense of place and enlivens all her characters without making them overlap and make me flip unduely to the front to remind myself who is what. Some have complained that the romance angle is flat but this isn’t a romance, unless you define it as LaFevers did, in the way that medieval romances were tales of loyalty, intrigue and love, too. This is about making up your own mind, and deciding how best to use our God-given talents, even if they’re from the God of Death.
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