Summary: 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?
Wow, Grace Mercy was pretty awesome! A story about assassin nuns who serve the god/Saint of Death? Sign me up!
I really loved Ismae. She was “marked” by the god of Death because she was born with scars she acquired when her mother attempted to abort her. She survived, but was essentially considered cursed by St. Mortain for surviving. Her father was abusive and controlling and married her off to someone equally distasteful. So on the night of her wedding, when her scars were revealed, she was cast off. Fortunately, she found herself rescued, to some degree, and began her life in the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters serve him and carry out his will. The awesome part was that “carrying out his will” = killing, seducing, maiming, and enacting his vengeance. Ismae was more than happy to kill men, as she had no love for them. It was a win-win situation and the hardest thing for her was having to fake seduce them to get close enough to strike.
The story shifted a bit as the politics of the time period were of importance to the convent. The convent was loyal to Brittany, which was the setting, and so the sisters were aligned with the Duchess of Brittany. Ismae was sent on a mission (undercover as a mistress, actually) to protect the duchess and learn about any plots, understand the motivations of people at court, await the orders of the sisters, and execute any French who had Mortain’s mark (meaning they were marked for death).
There are two things people seem to dislike about the book and they are both things I liked. One of the issues people seem to have is how the book shifts in tone and becomes more about the politics at court and of Brittany, than it was about Ismae and epic killing rampages. But as much as I usually avoid historical fiction, and I was kind of captivated by everything. While I loved the idea of assassin nuns, I relished an opportunity to have Ismae taken away from the convent and told to keep a watchful eye on people. She was able to learn about the motivations of people and make her own decisions, which I felt was important. Lots of things were happening and questions were raised by Duval, the man she was traveling with, about blind trust and understanding the will of Mortain. I thought it was all very interesting. Most importantly, while Ismae was able to escape a controlling husband, she was part of an organization that also stripped her of free will. I could not have enjoyed the story as much if it didn’t touch on that blind faith and following orders without understanding them, so the events at court were crucial to me.
The other issue people seem to have is the romance. To me, it was all part of Ismae having to learn to rely on herself. Not only should she think about the orders she’s given, but she should also be given the chance to decide if the people she’s with are trustworthy. Plus, after being shown such terrible men in her life, it was intriguing to watch her interact with an honorable one. She was supposed to watch him to ensure he wasn’t also a traitor. So was she defensive of him because he was nice or was he just a good guy? What would happen if the orders from the convent conflicted with her thoughts about him? I couldn’t have taken the book seriously if she fell for him immediately and suddenly forgot all about her duties or if she refused to take his cryptic advice and comments to heart and blindly followed orders. Their relationship was slow to grow and murky, but all of that was awesome to me.
I thought Grave Mercy was a well told story. It didn’t feel like a YA novel in many ways because it was a little dark, the main character was an assassin, Ismae didn’t swoon all crazy immediately for the hero, and it definitely explored the historical aspect of the story quite a bit. It was not an easy to read romantic fantasy as the girl in a dress on the cover might have people believe. It was much better than I ever expected and I can’t wait to continue the series.