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Review: Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers was released in the U.S. on April 3, 2012 in hardcover, audio and eBook editions. It is currently available to order online in all formats at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, the print edition is 560 pages.

Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin series by author Robin LaFevers. Dark Triumph, the second book in the series, and Dark Hope, the third book, are both slated for release in 2013.


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Goodreads description:

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?



Ismae Rienne never imagined an existence outside the dark, pain-filled and hopeless one the man she called her father created. Forced to marry the local pig farmer, she at least hoped to find in him the kindness she had never experienced. But it was not to be.

So when the convent of St. Mortain welcomed her, Ismae never thought of saying no. Even if she had to abide by their rules. And even if it meant she would be beholden to the god they revered.

A god who some believed to be only a saint. A god who dictated the convent’s every decision. A god who sought vengeance against those who had done wrong. And a god who demanded of his daughters the retribution he sought to enforce.

The very same god purported to be her father. And the god who was in fact Death.

After years of training to be Death’s assassin, armed only with the skills she learned at the convent and her innate ability to detect poisons, Ismae set out with the directive to carry out her god’s wishes.

Desperately wanting to succeed, never anticipating failure, Ismae was quick to master her abilities and to act without question. But when not everything turned out to be as black and white as she once thought, meting out punishments without reservation meant risking herself, her humanity and even her heart.


Grave Mercy is an epic tale of deceit, betrayal, mystery, suspense, action, adventure and love. The author’s rich and beautifully descriptive writing sets the stage for a story that is equally as textured, layered and compelling. The result is lush, magical and utterly riveting and the start to a new series that will be absolutely unforgettable.

Strong female characters, exceptional abilities and deadly missions combine with a devious, underhanded, plotting and scheming nobility to create something rather unique. And with a historical setting that weaves in elements of fiction and fantasy, Grave Mercy will enchant readers and transport them to this other time and place.

To a world where the gods of days of old still have power. To a world where girls are trained to serve, to fight, to carry out their deadliest of wishes. To a world where being in power by no means guarantees safety. Even for the most honorable of rulers. Or the youngest.

As Ismae Rienne learns the truth about who she is and what her purpose is within the confines of the convent of St. Mortain, she begins to develop into someone strong and deadly. Someone more than capable of carrying out Death’s vengeful plans.

But when her instructions leave her with questions and doubts about what she’s done and what she’s supposed to do, she must decide whether she can live with the consequences of either questioning her orders or following them blindly.

One means turning her back on the only home and family she knows. The other means ignoring her heart and what she feels to be right. Both require a steep price to be paid. Neither are likely to end happily.

Full of twists and turns, tension and nail-biting suspense, and a mystery that will keep readers guessing as to who is really involved in the deadly plots afoot in Brittany and whether Ismae will be the Duchess’ savior or her downfall, Grave Mercy will entice. It will engage. It will enthrall. And it won’t let go.

Author Robin LaFevers has done a remarkable job of bewitching readers with her new historical fantasy novel. This first book in the His Fair Assassin series more than introduces a character and world to its readers. It submerges them in the character’s life and old world setting, creating an unbreakable connection for the entire read.

At well over five hundred pages, the story flies, easily captivating readers with the author’s ability to paint a picture with her words and by the the exciting tale this story tells. From the political maneuvering, to the assassination attempts, to a treachery so deep that no one is above suspicion, to one character’s heartbreaking journey through this danger-filled landscape, Grave Mercy is an absolutely unputdownable must read first book in the series.

Reviewer gives this book…

On a personal note:

When I first saw the cover for Grave Mercy I thought it was simply a historical fiction novel. What I missed was the crossbow.

My curiosity was most definitely piqued. And even though I was intrigued by the cover and the book’s description, I did not expect to be swept away by this story. But I was. Grave Mercy was so completely enchanting and captivating and seductive that I found myself lost in this story set in an era long gone by.

I was completely transported into this world of Dukes and Duchesses, Barons and Viscounts. I was transfixed by the gamesmanship, betrayals, deceit and mystery. And I fell in love with the characters.

Ismae Rienne was immediately lovable and sympathetic. The story, told in the first person from her point of view, made it so easy to connect with her. Even with the historical setting and the slight differences in the language of the time, she shined.

She was kind and brave and smart and humble and grew to be someone who was absolutely deadly. But she had her own mind, she was willing to take risks to get to the truth, and she had a heart. And while she may have been afraid to succumb to her feelings at first, she wasn’t closed off to doing so.

And Gavriel Duval was her perfect match. Witty, charming, clever, strong and equally as brave, he complemented her so totally that I couldn’t help but root for them from the getgo. They most definitely had chemistry and I spent much of the read wishing for their happy ending.

But it wasn’t just the two main characters that gave this story its allure. With a great mix of incredibly likable and utterly vile characters and those that fell somewhere in between, I was totally hooked. I wanted to see those evil characters get what they deserved and for good to win out in the end.

Of course, figuring out who was good and who was evil wasn’t always easy. I wasn’t completely sure who to trust – I’m still not sure about certain characters – which made the betrayal and intrigue and mystery that much more tantalizing and this story more spellbinding.

I’m just glad that certain events went down as they did. I just wish others didn’t. Because the way some things happened did break my heart just a little bit. And while I did not expect to tear up in a story about Death’s Assassins, I did.

And while I absolutely loved the characters, oh my gosh the writing. It was gorgeous. Absolutely beautifully, stunningly gorgeous. From the first sentence I was ensnared. The author painted such a vivid and beautiful and at times dark picture of her world.

But I was right there. In the middle of it all. With Ismae. With Duval. And I was so caught up in the story and the writing that I had no clue it was over five hundred pages long. It was epic. But the story just flew by. And at its end I was shocked and surprised because I wanted more.

And so now I have to wait. For a story I’m told will be from a different character’s perspective. To return to a world that felt very real, that the author brought to life so incredibly well, and that kept me so thoroughly engaged that I was sad to return to the here and now.

So, yes, I love this epic story that makes me long to include the term “mayhap” in my everyday speech. And, yes, I may be just slightly in love with Duval and Beast. And, yes, I absolutely adore Ismae and Anne. And most definitely yes, I can’t wait for the next book to come out so I can find out more about Sybella and return to this period in time which mixes reality with fantasy and luxury and privilege with deception and death.


The writing in this book was gorgeous. But there was one passage that I just knew would be my favorite from the very second I read it…

His smile flashes, quick and surprising in the darkness. “When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice. I bid you good night.”

But there was also a passage that made me smile… and still does…

Her words are sharp, but her voice is sweet, like honey on the edge of a blade, and meant to be cutting. I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face and commending his soul to Mortain.


This review is based on both an eARC and a printed ARC I received from the publisher, through NetGalley and the Shelf Awareness newsletter, in exchange for my honest review.

19 Responses to “Review: Grave Mercy”

  1. Yay! I adore this book and am always glad to see great reviews of it. I bought a finished copy of this one almost as soon as I finished it and can’t wait for the next books in the series. Fabulous review, Rachel!

    • Fiktshun009 says:

      It took me awhile to sit down and write this review. I always have so much more difficult a time when the authors have rich and luscious writing styles. It was so gorgeous it intimidated me. But after two weeks in drafts, I hope I survived it. LOL. And thanks!

  2. I absolutely adored the writing in this one. Gorgeous. 😀 I didn’t like it as much as you did, but historical fiction isn’t my favorite genre to read and usually don’t like a lot of historical fiction books.

    I didn’t like Gavriel at first, but near the end I started to fall in love with him. I was so sure he was going to be the bad guy when we first met him! but alas, he’s a good guy. 😀

    great review! I love the passages you selected to quote.

    • Fiktshun009 says:

      Historical fiction is a mixed bag for me. Sometimes I absolutely love it, sometimes not so much. But I was fascinated by the world in this book. I loved the idea of Brittany and the power plays for control over that country during that time period. Fourteen hundreds? Fifteen hundreds?

      I don’t read historical fiction hardly at all, but I used to enjoy history books, given that I majored in history, LOL.

      I did NOT trust Gavriel at all. But I loved him. He seemed like he could be the bad boy and I never have problems with that. 🙂 Oh and I liked (sort of) the one handsome guy who had that thing happen at the end…

      Thanks! I had to add the second because that cracked me up so hard. I love her spunky personality and that she totally would have smothered him with the pillow, bahahaha!

  3. alice priday says:

    i cannot wait to get this book in the mail (i have the paperback preordered) i love your review and just know il love the book 🙂

  4. Karen says:

    So many positive reviews for this one, I can’t wait to read it! I bought it the day it came out but I’ve got too many review & library books that I have to get to first. Boo hoo.

  5. M.R. Merrick says:

    I’ve seen this book floating around, read some good reviews, and naturally I love the cover (p.s. I totally missed the crossbow too). All that said, it didn’t sound like something that would be completely “for me.” That is, until I read this review. This is moving up to the top of my TBR list. What a fantastic review. You’ve made me beyond excited and I’m dying to read this now. And so I shall. Thank you!

  6. Lis Carcamo says:

    The first time I saw this cover I thought the same. I think I won´t be read this book. But everytime I read a review of this one, seems like everyone love it!
    I´ll try it, then. Thanks for the review!

  7. Excellent review, Rachel. Grave Mercy was my first ever Netgalley review. I posted some of my favorite lines as well. I loved the ARC sooo much I had to have the hardcover too. The online pic doesn’t just do justice for this beauty. At first glance I also missed the cross bow. Everything about the book is lush. My favorite read of the year.

  8. I can hardly wait to pick this up and read it. 🙂

  9. Alright… Alright… You’ve totally and FINALLY talked me into it!!! I’m reading this ASAP!

  10. After reading the quotes i have to read this! It sounds like a badass book which i love!

    Great review!

  11. Ana Lucía says:

    Historical fiction is not exactly my kind of thing but I read a review a while ago that totally piqued my curiosity. Especially the assassin part 😉 after I read the synopsis I knew I wanted to give it a try.

    No one seems to notice the crossbow!! That’s the first thing I saw and still wasn’t interested until I read the review and synopsis.
    I have seen pictures of the real book and it is HUGE!! <3 it.

  12. Glad you loved this one! I’m excited to read it– especially since you said it has gorgeous writing. It’s waiting on my Kindle for me… I was going to read Hourglass next, but maybe this will have to be my next one.

    • Fiktshun009 says:

      It is gorgeous writing! You should just read the first couple of sentences. Oh my gosh, sucked me right in! I almost posted those instead of a favorite passage, but I didn’t want to get in the habit of that here on the blog. There’s another blog that does that which I like, but found that sometimes first sentences aren’t so good and could deter people. 🙂

      You should read Hourglass, then you can tell me what it’s like so I can move it up in my reading pile. 🙂

  13. I.TOLD.YOU.
    I TOLD YOU!!
    ~runs away crying~

  14. This sounds absolutely fantastic. Your enthusiasm and enchantment with this book really shines through and I need to read this now! I love how you said it takes you to another time and place. And yes, the crossbow really adds that special touch to the image on the cover.

  15. Helen Keeble says:

    Wow, this sounds absolutely brilliant! I eat up historical fantasies, and throwing girl assassins in just makes it even more perfect. You’ve sold me on this one! 🙂

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