Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

I am always on the lookout for higher level books that I can give to high readers in grades 4 & 5. This book got some high reviews on Goodreads so I checked it out of the library to see if it was an okay YA book to purchase for an elementary library. It isn't. But it is a well-written book with great pacing and character development. It is a romantic fantasy and explores themes of love and religious fundamentalism during the historical period when Christianity replaced the mythological gods.

Ismae's mother is dead and her step father hates her. He is abusive and is marrying her to another man just as violent as himself. The villagers regard her with fear and persecute her as well as her step father, because her real father is Mortain or the god of Death. On her wedding night she is horribly abused and rescued by the village herbwitch who sends Ismae to the Convent of St. Mortain where she is safe and trained as an assassin. She hates men and is willing to embrace the convents ideology that killing is okay as long as it is ordained by St. Mortain. This is done by seeing the mark of death on a victim and Ismae discovers that not only has her father, Mortain, endowed her with this unique gift, but others as well.

Her assignments embroil her in a plot to stop overthrow the duchess of Brittany, which would lead to a French invasion. She is forced into a partnership with Duval, a man she doesn't know if she can trust. She relies on her gifts from her father to lead her through the duplicity of the court but when Duval questions her murderous actions she begins to question the convent's training and wonder if what she is doing is right or wrong.

The convent section is skimmed over with not much depth on the martial arts training. It mainly setups the minor characters of the Abbess, Crunard, Sybella and Annith. It shows more of the friendships and a little brainwashing as the girls spew doctrines and doxologies. The girls seem a little too nice to be assassins but then I probably wouldn't connect with the characters if they were psychopaths. Sybella is probably the most believable assassin because she is the most unhinged. I would have liked to have seen more of her character in the story. I thought she was interesting.

The first person narrative focuses on Ismae resisting her emotions and trying to not fall in love. She's really likable, sensitive, and kind which makes her somewhat unbelievable as an assassin and because of those qualities I kept expecting some trauma or deep regret after killing her first victim she doesn't have an emotional breakdown. She questions the killing but I thought she'd pray to St. Mortain or do more. It doesn't take from the story but it did cross my mind. I couldn't put down this fast-paced, fun read. Not easy to do with a 550 page story.

Similar to Graceling, Eona, Trickster's Choice, The Demon King.
Young Adult
4 out of 5 Smileys

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