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?
Design – Scott Magoon Photo – Richard Jenkins Rating – 3/5
That crossbow. We need more girls with weapons and usually it’s a sword but I love that this girl is holding a crossbow and not just standing there in a pretty dress. I like the stormy sky and the way the girl’s hair makes it look like she just turned her head toward some sort of threat. I also like the deep red and the giant no-nonsense title. The castle background is whatever. I wish there was something more interesting in the background.
I have a lot of feelings about Grave Mercy. This is the ‘assassin nun’ book, as it’s come to be known in the blogosphere. Ismae is fierce and deadly, but she’s also questioning her beliefs and everything she’s been taught about her mission. Ismae has never trusted men, but is teamed up with a guy named Gavriel in order to prevent a war. There’s action, treachery, and a slow burning romance – with a little bit of religious undertones.
- Gavriel – Gavriel Duval is one of those wonderful, honorable no matter what heroes. He will stop at nothing to protect Anne from the vile people plotting to either kill or manipulate here in order to gain access to the throne. Gavriel is, very reluctantly, assigned to escort Ismae to the castle and help her be accepted by the court. He constantly questions Ismae’s orders, making her rethink the way that St. Mortain works and the way that the convent serves him. Gavriel visits Ismae’s room each night to keep up the rumor that they are lovers, but never tries to take advantage or make a move on her.
- the poisoning – When Gavriel gets poisoned, he refuses to leave Anne and takes to hiding in secret tunnels inside the castle’s walls. Ismae discovers that she knows many ways to kill a man, but has never been taught how to heal anyone. Luckily, she slowly figures out that physical contact with Gavriel is curing his poisoning. While I love that Gavriel pushes through to help Anne, I didn’t care for how he is finally cured by sex. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell if sex actually took place in a YA book. Although, I suppose it’s nice that Ismae is using something that the convent taught for the purpose of destruction in a way that’s healing.
- Ismae – I loved Ismae from the very beginning of the book, when she’s being horribly abused. Ismae is young and without any allies, but she’s intelligent and mentally strong. She quickly learns how to defend herself, and never hesitates to use her skills to defend others. Ismae grows a lot during this book and in many ways. At the start, Ismae has never met a man worthy of her trust, but she comes to trust Gavriel as they get to know and understand each other. She also begins by unquestioningly following the convent’s orders. Through Gavriel’s curiosity and critiques about her way of life, as well as her own realizations and growing understanding about St. Mortain and herself, Ismae learns to rely on her own judgment rather than those of the abbey. Ismae is disgusted by the behavior of those at court, especially since Anne is such a young girl. In many ways, Ismae has been very sheltered from the world and has never even known why she was killing her targets besides that she was told to. Anne gives her someone to protect and a reason to use her deadly skills for good. She also struggles with wanting to kill certain people whom Mortain has not marked for death. Overall, I really love how much Ismae grew as a person in her journey.
- religious realizations – Ismae’s training at the convent was almost like brainwashing. They taught the girls to do anything, including have sex, to gain info or lure their targets to their doom. They’re meant to do with without questioning their orders and without having any info about who the person is that they are killing and what they’ve done to deserve death. Ismae has many realizations about the nature of her faith in Mortain during her mission with Gavriel. Ismae is told by the convent to suspect everyone, including Gavriel, the only man who has ever treated her with respect. She comes to realize that the convent can’t possibly know everything, that their word cannot be taken as law, especially when she feels that her orders conflict with her faith and values. I really appreciate the way that Gavriel questions Ismae about her killing orders. He is never rude about it, he simply asks questions and gently prods Ismae toward forming her own opinions. My favorite things having to do with religion are Ismae’s struggle to refrain from killing someone who Mortain hasn’t marked, and her revelations about mercy when someone’s mark disappears.
- the convent – While I appreciate that the story began before Ismae was trained in weaponry, I didn’t like the section of the book taking place at the convent. Ismae’s quality of life certainly improved when she arrived there, but the nuns struck me as manipulative and secretive – taking advantage of these girls in bad situations. Ismae’s life at the convent wasn’t very interesting to me. Throughout the book, the convent makes some harsh judgments and horrible decisions, assuming that they know more about the situation Ismae’s in the midst of, even though they are shut up in a convent hundreds of miles away. It sucks that they expect these young women to carry out these death sentences, yet don’t trust them to make their own decisions.
- god of death – I’m still not entirely sure how Ismae has been chosen by St. Mortain, the god of death. I think all the assassins’ moms slept with this god of death somehow so they’re his daughters? Anyway, Ismae can see the mark of Mortain on people that she’s supposed to kill. There’s a little bit of a faith thing going on as Ismae starts to question things, which I liked. I just found it confusing that there’s this god of death, but it’s not the devil – St. Mortain is a god who somehow has human children.
- politics is confusing – There are so many different people who are scheming to have influence over the throne, which makes keeping characters straight difficult. The author makes a note that each councilor of Anne’s, save one fictional character, were based on real people who actually betrayed the real Anne. And while the politics and alliances are complex, she also mentions that she simplified it for the book. That’s a lot of politics! Mainly, I found it hard to keep names straight. Someone would be mentioned and I’d have to try and remember which person they were and what they were trying to do.
I feel as if we are on a vessel moving inexorably toward some unseen destination. There is no one steering or tending the sails; only the dark tides and currents carry us to their preordained destination. – Loc. 3440
‘Not too late, not too late’ beats in my breast and pounds through my veins. I do not know if it is a prayer or a plea or a demand. – Loc. 4804
Acquired: Netgalley (ebook)