Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Published: 2012, Houghton Mifflin
“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?”
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Bored to Death Himself
Okay. Let me preface this review by saying that I gave Grave Mercy more than a fighting chance to prove itself. I really did try with this book. Despite the fact that it was a struggle, I read it through to conclusion, which I would not have done had I not felt like there was something promising to read about in the book. I was wrong, of course, but I’ll get to that. I just want it to be known that I read Grave Mercy with the best intentions, and that I didn’t read it solely for the purposes of tearing it apart in this review.
I feel like Grave Mercy started out as this fantastic idea in someone’s head, but somewhere in the transcription process between brain and page, something went awry. Quite bluntly, the book read like a poorly-written fanfiction of itself. There were sentences that literally had me cringing, whether from how simplistic they were or how cliché they sounded. Another thing that threw me off the story was the anachronistic speech that kept popping up in the narration. The setting is the Middle Ages, yet the heroine speaks sometimes like a twenty-first century resident. That jarring switch between formal, Medieval speech and more contemporary phrasing completely removed me from the story. Also, the simplistic way in which things are described, especially when contrasting with the rather adult subject material at times (sex, physical and sexual abuse, violence), made me wonder for which audience this book was intended.
A great majority of the book is, frankly, boring. Let’s just say that I found myself innocuously skipping sentences at first, then paragraphs, then entire pages in an effort to find a way to stay interested and invested in the storyline. There are pages and pages where a whole lot of nothing happens to further the plot. I wonder if the author just liked to add lots of unnecessary detail. The whole “mystery/murder plot at a royal court” theme is tricky to make compelling and exciting, and unfortunately Ms. LaFevers fails on both accounts.
Additionally, the pacing of the plot is way off throughout the book. The wrong parts are developed, whereas the interesting stuff is described in passing, rather than shown, to the reader. The exposition, in which we are introduced to the main heroine Ismae, was hasty and did not lay down a good foundation for the rest of the book. Within the first few chapters or so Ismae is whisked off from her old life of abuse and torment and thrust into a convent of the deadly arts, a holy place which serves Mortain, the saint/god of Death. She is supposedly trained in the deadly arts (almost none of this training is actually shown to the reader, depriving the storyline of potentially interesting content). Then, boom, a chapter later, Ismae is going on her first assassin’s assignment. If you ask me, it seems like Ms. LaFevers chose the wrong parts of the plot to cut out. As they say in middle school when you’re writing your first history term paper: show, Ms. LaFevers. Don’t tell.
Contrary to what you may think, I did, in fact, enjoy portions of the book. Some parts, namely the parts in which Ismae is engaged in a fight or is in immediate danger, were interesting to read about (despite being thoroughly ensconced among perfectly boring passages). The characters were somewhat likeable. The main character got on my nerves, namely because she has a huge ego. My impression of her may have been influenced somewhat by the writing style. The love interest, Duval, is intriguing, but unfortunately was not given as much screen time as I would have liked. The (sadly underdeveloped) setting is dark and definitely one of the shining points of this novel. Set in 1400s Britain, or Brittany, the gothic undertones are a perfect backdrop for assassins, spies, and murder; drafty castles, stormy weather, masquerades and royals all set up the stage quite nicely for Grave Mercy to take place.
I really wanted to like Grave Mercy. Truly. However, I had to force myself to finish the book; I was about halfway through by the time I realized how much trouble I was having finishing it, and decided that there was no way I was going to put myself through all that without finishing it. I just wish that Grave Mercy lived up to its plot summary.
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