Book Review: Grave Mercy

Posted November 28, 2014 by Lyn Kaye in book review, Lyn / 6 Comments

Book Review: Grave MercyGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 3rd, 2012
Genres: historical, young adult
Pages: 549
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon

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?

Grave Mercy has gained a reputation as owning their own cult following.  Mention the book, and watch the rabid fans come arunnin’. Fan-cultivated world-of-mouth advertising has bitten me before, such as The Fifth Wave, and I find it too uncomfortable to speak out about books that everyone loved, except for me. Grave Mercy was placed on the back burner for a very long time due to this issue. After finding myself not falling in love with the Throne of Glass series, I was way too paranoid to start this one.

When the cooler temperatures rolls around, and I found myself for something with a darker tone, I finally caved and picked this up. The last book was on the horizon, why sample the Kool-aide to see if I want the entire selection? Dive in and take a chance.

Well, I have some wonderful news. The Kool-aid tastes great, and the water is fine. I had mistakenly thought that the novel was fantasy, only to find that it veered more towards historical. This was no huge matter – the book delivered and assassinated my fears completely.



Girl power! The formula of creating a strong female character that often trips over her own neurosis never gets old! Strong girls can also be flawed, damaged people, and vise versa. Ismae is the production of a horrible situation compounded by a negative view of men. No, this isn’t a male-bashing or man hating book. It leans more towards a young woman learning how to trust and overcome her own underlying fear of males, thanks to the poor examples presented to her during her younger years in life.  Not only is this a story of a nun-raised assassin serving Death (which, right there, makes this book just outright awesome), but it is a tale of a domestic and patriarchal violence and neglect survivor allowing her heart to heal and move forward, casting off the chains of fear that pressed down on her and cocooned her from more realistic view of men. With a statistic that is too horrifying to look up and quote (I really do not feel like crying more this week), there is a patch of young readers that are looking for this type of theme on the YA shelves. LaFevers delivers the theme delicately while avoiding sugar-coating the reality of domestic abuse and violence.

As we go deeper into the novel, the reader is treated to more layers and themes in the novel that appeal to any reader at any age: blind faith in leadership. Trust should not be just a perk of eldership. It is a trait that is earned. Ismae finds her own loyalty cracking during the novel, and she explores her own doubt in a healthy manner. While some cultures and regions bicker over the importance or the sin of younger people questioning adults and figureheads, isn’t is important to teach HEALTHY skeptism? Fearing to question and explore traditions and ideas that seem outdated or existing solely for oppression of morality isn’t an outstanding quality, and can often harm social growth. LaFevers takes this small grain of truth and produces a pearl of wisdom.

Bottom line is: not only is an attention-grabbing plot of killer nuns enticing, but the story dares to dig deeper, and social issues transcend time to find common ground between 500 years to show that the good fight is worth the waging battle.


Developing Buds – Time to talk romance. Peering over my own reviews, I either loathe or love a romance in a novel. I don’t openly look for a romantic theme, but YA has a long history and seeming obligation to add it in, so whether I care for it or not, intimacy is going to factor into a YA book.

This romance, luckily, was very tasteful.  It slowly developed, with both characters gaining personal growth and development from the arrangement.  Also, the girl getting the stone-hearted, upstanding guy? I’m just all for that. I love to chase, it seems.

As with any good story, I noticed quite a bit of controversy over a particular scene in the novel between the two characters. After the book was done, and numerous readings on a poison scene, I really had to pull back and think about the event. On one hand, it did seem to hint at objectifying intimacy.  I just never could bring myself to think poorly of that instance. I often look at a story as symbolism. I have a habit of trying to peek behind the curtain. What I took away from it was the power of healing by opening up to others, by trusting in your own strength to mend others. Maybe I’m completely out of the ball park and wrong, but I found it touching and very positive to place such a scene in the novel.


Don’t Know Much About History – As I stated in my introduction, I was shocked to discover that the novel was historical and not fantasy. It finally dawned on me when I started to notice the names and locations used in the book. Fail on my part. However, I liked that it was something different, a new direction and genre. I’m not a big lover of Paris or France in general, but I did like to see the pre-France country locked in a struggle with the French crown.

Not with a Bang – I only found a few things that were bothersome. The antagonist was no shock, and the finale with the main boss seemed a little lackluster. I kept waiting to be shocked, but it turns out that the Obvious Bad Guy Choice was the correct choice.


Funeral of Meh – the book did have some wonderful secondary characters.  However, I found that the novel tended to just sketch out the background characters, taking away some of the sympathy I felt towards the ending.




An entertaining page in history becomes the setting for a pro-gender plot and an approachable view on skeptism and domestic crimes, and the fears held by the victims as the aftermath. Historical buffs and the general reader are going to enjoy this one. Fantasy fanatics would surely be welcomed by this novel, and the die hard romance fans can relate to the novel.  A well-rounded character design for the main character is a huge plus, the perfect cherry on the top. Be prepared to devour Grave Mercy in one sitting.


6 responses to “Book Review: Grave Mercy

  1. I really enjoyed this one because it was a mix of fantasy and historical elements. I agree with you that the romance was well done in this one as it took the entire novel to really come together. I also agree that sometimes the descriptions would get a little long and pull you out of the story from time to time.
    Thanks for the great review!
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