Wednesday 16 July 2014

#CBR6 Book 75: "Grave Mercy" by Robin LaFevers

Page count: 549 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Ismae's mother went to a herb witch to expel her from the womb, but Ismae survived. The poison marked her with red all the way down her side, and proved to the community that she is one of Death's daughters. When her abusive father marries her to the local pig farmer, she is convinced he's going to beat her to death once he discovers her dark secret. But the itinerant priest who performed the service spirits her away with the help of the local herb witch and she ends up at the convent of St. Mortain, who used to be worshipped as the God of Death himself. At the convent, she learns that she has a number of gifts, including a complete immunity to poison and an advanced healing ability. She's offered sanctuary at the convent, if she agrees to be a handmaiden of Death - an assassin working for the old gods of Brittany.

Ismae, who has never known a kind word or touch from anyone in her life, doesn't take long to agree. She is trained in all manner of deadly arts, and by the time she is seventeen, she is ready to complete her training. She isn't too happy with her graduating assignment, though, having to pose as the mistress of Gavriel Duval, half-brother to the Duchess of Brittany and her most trusted advisor. The Abbess of St. Mortain and the Duchess' Grand Chancellor know that there is at least one traitor at court, trying to deliver Brittany and its young Duchess to the French, and they'd like nothing more than for Ismae to prove that Duval is said traitor.

To begin with, Duval and Ismae can barely stand each other. He feels that she trusts too blindly in the orders she receives, she thinks that he is arrogant and conceited and has no wish to be dependent on any man, even as a ruse. Of course the two grow closer, and it becomes readily apparent that Ismae is going to have to learn to trust her instincts and intuition, not just the orders her convent sends her.

A young adult book set in Medieval Brittany, about assassin nuns, with romantic elements, seemed to be right up my alley. I do, after all, have a degree in European Medieaval history, and I love all things YA and romantic. And who doesn't like a good assassin story? There's a lot of potential in this book, but it's too long, and far too much time is spent on things that weren't all that interesting. The story could absolutely have been tighter and more action-packed.

Pretty much all of the training Ismae goes through at the convent is conveniently skipped, and then far too many chapters are spent on her getting settled at court. I have to agree with Duval that she is far too innocent and trusting in her superiors, but that's not really surprising in a farm girl elevated to assassin nun. I doubt any convent is big on training their acolytes in independent thought, critical thinking and questioning their elders. Young women who are sent out to assassinate on behalf of the old gods are not the sort of people you want branching out on their own and going independent. Certainly not if they're immune to poison, like Ismae is. Still, she was a bit dense at times, and it got on my nerves.

The romance springs a bit out of nowhere. Ismae is falling in love with Duval before she's really even spent all that much time with him. As it turns out, he's a pretty great guy, loyal to his young sister and willing to risk his life to make sure she finds happiness in a good marriage and doesn't have her duchy invaded by the French. But Ismae is already madly in love with him by the time we find out all these things.

It was pretty obvious to me who the traitor was long before it was revealed, and the deus ex ending that means Ismae might be looking at her HEA was a bit too convenient for my tastes. Too much of this book was boring day to day court life, and too little of it was assassination, romance and intrigue. Still, I have heard that the sequel is better, so I will probably keep going. After all, medieaval assassin nuns, right?

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