Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
At 549 pages, Grave Mercy is a monster of a book. Robin LaFevers doesn't just introduce readers to her world, she immerses you in it. Takes you by the hand and leads you into this dark, perilous world full of young women who've been sired by Death to do his handy work.
I fell in love with it immediately.
The length of the book actually felt like a gift because the story was so fully explored. Some people dismiss the YA genre, making it seem as if it's somehow less than adult fiction. (I don't associate with these people, of course, but I've heard talk) Grave Mercy takes that short-sighted opinion, rips it to shreds, sets the shreds on fire and spits on the ashes.
I really enjoyed Ismae as an MC. The opening pages tell us much about her life pre-assassin training. The girl has obviously gone through hell. She's about to be married off by her father (who's beaten Ismae her entire life) to Guillo (a disgusting, abusive drunk). When Guillo tries to rape her on their wedding night and discovers the red scar that runs from her shoulder to her hip, marking her as a daughter of Death, he beats and locks her in the cellar.
I wanted to jump through the pages, kill the bastard and save Ismae. But instead she saw escaping Guillo as a victory. Loved her indomitable spirit throughout.
She's then taken to the convent of St. Mortain--where the handmaidens of Death are trained in the fine arts of becoming an assassin. Poison (which Ismae learns she has a particular affinity for), hand-to-hand combat, weaponry, seduction, they have it all at their disposal. And the young women learn to use their deadly talents with grave efficiency.
There was so much in this book to love.
I thought the "Death marques" were fantastic. Only Ismae could see them, and they marked each person for death, appearing as a sort of black smudge on a certain body part, dictating how they would be killed (i.e. black ring around the neck for strangulation, black lips for poison etc.). The pearls Ismae wore in her hair netting, each filled with a poison that could drop a man within minutes. The beauty was in the deadly details, and LaFevers didn't hold back.
My favorite part of the book was the romance. Does anyone know where I can get a Team Gavriel button? J It was impossible, IMPOSSIBLE not to fall for this guy. His loyalty, his intelligence, the way he and Ismae seemed to both slowly fall for each other despite themselves. I'm sucker for good romance, and this was one of the greats. The big reveal of his backstory (you'll know it when you read it) cemented my feelings. Gavriel Duval meet your number one fan. This is the kind of man you wish existed in real life.
The side characters were awesome as well: Sybella, Annith, De Lornay, and Beast. Oh, Beast and I were friends the moment he entered the story. Aside from Ismae and Gavriel, he was the character I cared for (and worried about) the most.
Some writers seamlessly weave plot, intrigue, action and romance into one story. LaFevers did and still managed to write a standalone historical YA. Yes, you read right: Standalone. The book is the first in a planned trilogy, but Ismae and Gavriel's story was completely, beautifully told without the cliffhanger ending. I hope other writers take up this trend.
I'm anxiously awaiting Book 2, Dark Triumph, which will feature two of the characters introduced in Grave Mercy. Two of my favorites J. I.Cannot.Wait!!