The Novel Strumpet is back! After taking a rest from the Los Angeles Festival of Books 2012, The Strumpt is cracking open the pages of another sure to be classic! What is it this time you may ask, well none other than Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers!
Ohhhhhhhhh… This review has it all… Death, Marriage, Vengeance, and even an appearance by the God of Death himself. Which is always nice, because I always say, go big or go home and you can’t get much bigger than the God of Death…
Am I right? Or am I right? Take a look at the Novel Strumpet’s review after the jump!
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
I really liked the concept of this novel from the start.
It all takes place in Brittany before the French absorbed it into their country and focuses on Ismae. Ismae has been marked by death, literally. She carries the scar along her back. As such she has not had the best life. When her father marries her off to a simple farmer in her village she thinks that things may start to improve somewhat, but after her new husband sees her mark and beats her she knows that will not be the case. Then things take a turn and she is smuggled away to a small convent. This convent is made for girls just like her, girls who carry the mark of Mortain the god of death. Here they are taught to become instruments of his vengeance, and are taught the fine arts to carry out his wishes. Poisons, garrotes, hand-to-hand, seduction, all things that any good assassin will need to carry out the god’s plans.
Things start to look up after Ismae’s first successful kill. She has started to see the mark of Mortain on those chosen for death. She has learned so many powerful things to carry out his wishes. She has found a certain type of freedom from the world of men in the safety of her sisters. Then, something happens and now she is suddenly in the middle of the fight for Brittany’s future. The soon to be Duchess still has not found a husband, France is trying to overtake her kingdom, enemies are threatening her life from without and within. Ismae must now work with the bastard brother, Gavriel, of the soon to be Duchess to figure out how to save their ruler’s life and her duchy. But can he be trusted? Or is the mark of Mortain hidden on him somewhere? Ismae has no convent walls to hide behind, none of her sisters there to give her counsel, and she must learn to navigate the labyrinths of Court and it’s games to save the young duchess, her country, it’s people and ultimately herself.
First off, I just have to point out that this is a YA novel in that Ismae (and most of the novices at the convent) are between 13-18 years of age, however in Medieval society that made them women so some of the themes and actions will seem jarring until you take that into account. Because she does kill, she does use her skills at seduction, she does see battle and fights people with weapons. However, there are times when I feel she has a too modern teen spirit in her. It’s just something in the way her mind processes things at times.
The novel also deals with concepts of what is god’s will and what is ours? How much are we really carrying out the god’s work and how much of it is tainted with man’s interpretation? There are issues of women’s rights, whether or not people can be redeemed, the list goes on. There are a lot of powerful and heady topics. Bravo to LaFevers for tackling them.
However, there is also the love story, which I found a little disappointing. In some ways it almost negates the lessons Ismae learns because she’s only learning them because she’s attracted to Gavriel. She wants to trust him so she starts questioning her superiors at the convent. She doesn’t want to have to kill his mother so she questions the concepts of mercy. You get the picture. I think the novel could have been so much more powerful if Ismae came to these conclusions in other ways. I get that love stories are huge sellers, but I just feel like somethings could’ve been handled in a different way. I don’t know how. Just saying.
All in all I found it a richly woven story of fantasy and I look forward to the next one in the series.