Synopsis from Good Reads:
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?
I’ve heard Grave Mercy mostly described as “Nun Assassins”, but that doesn’t feel entirely correct. Apparently the old pagan god of death (now referred to by the church as a Saint), can sire children and give them special talents or powers to serve him – known as Handmaidens of Death. I was a little confused by this in the beginning. I thought that Ismae’s father was actually her father and her mother was just a bit cray-cray. But, later it’s said that Mortion actually impregnated her, though there are no details of their relationship. Anyways, Ismae eventually is taken to the St. Mortian convent. Here the “nuns” serve Mortian as a god and teach their young pupils numerous ways to kill a man, as well as “womanly arts” to manipulate them. After a couple of years, Isame is sent out on assignment.
You can guess what happens when she’s instructed to team up with the Duchess’s advisor, Duval. While the initially can’t stand each other, they slowly begin to trust and respect each other, until – surprise!! – they fall in love. While this was typical YA and predictable, I did actually like their relationship. I liked both Ismae and Duval as individual characters, as well. The rest of the characters could’ve been a little more developed for me, though.
The pacing of the story was a little inconsistent. It was slow in the beginning, then really picked up. Then slowed down again. I also wished that with so much emphasis put on Isame being an assassin, that we would get to see her in action more than we did. I enjoyed all the political intrigue, but at times had difficulty keeping all the supporting characters straight.
One unique aspect to this book is Ismae’s devotion to Mortian. I’ve read several books that involve Greek gods, but the characters don’t really serve them. Only in Christian books have I seen the characters really love God and want to have a relationship with Him. While Ismae’s devotion disconcerted me a little since Mortian is a pagan god, it made me realize that there may be a bigger audience for Christian Fiction, if the rest of the story is solid.
Overall, I enjoyed Grave Mercy. While at times it was confusing and fell prey to a lot of the typical YA conventions, the story was unique enough to make up for it. While I’m in no great hurry to do so, I’ll probably continue on with the series.
Rating (out of 5):
Overall Average: 3.625 stars