Book Club Review: GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers

Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publisher: Houghton Miffler Harcourt
Publication Date: April 3rd 2012
Genre: YA, Historical, Fantasy
Read this if you liked: The Graceling series, Seraphina, The Falconer, anything by Phillipa Gregory
Rating: 3/5 

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?

This was a really hard one to review because I have such mixed reviews about the book as a whole, and I don't think I'm the only one in the book club who feels that way! There was a lot about it I liked, but there were certain areas where it fell flat for me, and that was really disappointing because I wanted to like this A LOT. It took me ages to decide on a rating. It's also affected my eagerness to read the rest of the series, because although I really want to know more about Annith and Sybella's paths after Grave Mercy, I don't know whether I want to read two more books that might follow a similar pattern to this one.

I started off really liking the book. The pace was good to start with, and by the first five chapter in I was hooked. The voice wasn't too archaic that I couldn't get into it - in fact it was a real struggle to stop at Chapter 5 in order to go do some NaNo work that day. The opening lines are a real punch to a gut, and I loved the whole premise of assassin nuns. I mean, come on. NUN ASSASSINS. I started to love Ismae's relationship with Serafina (BFF poison masters FTW). And I know that not all men are as awful as the ones Ismae came into contact with, but boy did I end up hating blokes by the end of chapter five. When Sybella asked if there was a poison to make men's 'members shrivel up and drop off', I was like, 'YOU GO GIRLFRIEND' (sorry male readers of this blog).

If it carried on like this, we would have been okay. However, I had one big problem: I could not connect with Ismae properly as a character. Ismae's voice is strange and difficult to get used to. One of the group discussion questions was, 'did we think Ismae was 14 at the start of this novel?' and I have to say, no. I actually found her abundantly annoying as a MC. The biggest issue I had with her, however, was just how dense she was about it all. There was one particular aspect to the story - without getting into Spoiler Territory - where it was clear from the get go what was happening, and it took Ismae ages to work it out. Death had to appear in the middle of a battlefield and be all like, 'gurl, you thought about this? Maybe?' I know it was done for dramatic effect, for tension, but it just missed the mark because I was too busy saying, 'well about time. I got that ten chapters back." If something appears blindingly obvious to a reader and a character then doesn't get it for ages, it can be really difficult for that narrative to not feel slow. You feel like you're fifteen steps ahead of the characters and that's backwards. You should be running and learning with them.

One of the biggest things to disappoint me was the romance. I like a slow burn, but it has to have tension and hints at more. The odd touch here and there, lingering moments. Close calls. Maybe because this was a historical romance and Duval was so noble, that's why there was no kissing until over halfway through the book. However, once we go there (FINALLY), there was nothing again until almost the end. I wasn't sure whether you could really call this a romance at all. I heard Sybella's romance in the sequel is better and Annith's romance is swoon-worthy in the final book, but I heard the same said of Grave Mercy, so I'll admit I'm skeptical whether it would satisfy my cravings.

That being said, I like them together in some ways. I liked Duval a lot, but he is virtually perfect. He was the first decent man Ismae came across in her life, and I just wish he'd been more of a realistic representation of good men. I wanted to know more about De Lornay, who seemed like a bit of dark horse and I was hoping he'd have a bigger role in the series. Beast was great too! They were boht more, what I'd call, realistic guys. Duval was a bit old school Mills and Boon for me. The rest of the male characters were absolutely awful, but that fit in with the history.

It's been a while since I've read a historical fiction, and I don't know if that's why the political, historical plot of this seemed so heavy to me. I could follow it, mostly, and it was interesting. I got a bit lost in the politics sometimes but still it was nice to read a historical fiction where the author had taken the time to actually give the story a firm political rooting. I felt really sorry for the Duchess and how fenced in she was. Again, issue with the writing and tone - I did not get until the end that she was TWELVE YEARS OLD WHILE ALL THIS WAS HAPPENING. Admittedly, I must have missed the part where it was written (I am a skimmer - frequently have to reread passages sometimes). I was viewing it all as if she were Ismae's age - which I feel is how the writing makes it come across - but this just makes all the men bidding for her to be their wife so much more atrocious. I'd actually like to see a fourth book with Anne as the romantic lead because I think a romance with her would be so interesting. Who could she trust? And she had the makings of a strong and determined woman.

Overall, even though it is well written, Grave Mercy just didn't meet with my expectations, especially after hearing so much hype about it. I think one day I may give the second book a try (because it comes highly recommended by Dana, who's opinion I trust!). I just hope it doesn't leave me wanting like this one did.

Are you in the book club? Or have you read Grave Mercy and the His Fair Assassin series before? Let me know if you agree or disagree with this review! 

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