Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Late 15th century Brittany.  The Breton duchy holds on to its independence from France by a thread.  The Duke of Brittany dead, the only heir is his daughter, 12-year-old Duchess Anne, whose marriage must be approved by the regent of France for her country to retain its independence.  Surrounded by suitors she hates and with a council of advisors full of potential traitors, Anne's only ally is her half-brother, Lord Gavriel Duval.

18-year-old Ismae is a daughter and handmaiden of Death.  Sold into marriage by her abusive turnip farmer father to the brutish Giullo, Ismae was rescued by the local herbwitch and smuggled to the nuns at the convent of Saint Mortain.  Taken in by the abbess and trained in the art of death, Ismae is now a lethal weapon skilled in the arts of poison, the crossbow, more knives than can be hidden beneath her gown, spying, and seduction.

Still a novice, Ismae must be chosen for and successfully complete three missions for her patron saint before she will be allowed to take her final vows.  Possessed of the unique gifts of immunity to all poisons and an ability to see the marque of death on Mortain's chosen victims, she is one of the convent's most promising assassins - which is why she is so perfectly suited for the convent's most vital mission yet.

To gain access to the Duchess's court, Ismae is to pose as Lord Duval's mistress, discover the traitor or traitors to the Duchess and Brittany's independence, and deliver Mortain's vengeance.  Distrustful of all men after her experiences with her father and Giullo, Ismae is uneasy with her role, but completely committed to the convent and her saint.  Though the abbess cautions her that Duval is not to be trusted, Ismae finds herself slowly falling for the handsome, serious Lord as they work together to untangle the web of treachery surrounding the duchess.  Can she trust her instincts - and her heart? 

Robin LaFevers richly calls to life dark ages Brittany with its old world gods and mythology woven into the new religion of Christianity.  Political intrigue, turmoil and mystery with a touch of romance and some pretty awesome fight scenes (a tiny crossbow that fits under your overskirt?  Yes, please!) make for an exciting read with a tough, spirited heroine who doesn't let anyone get in her way.  First in the His Fair Assassin series, check out this great mix of historical fiction and fantasy @the library!

(who's finally making time for the awesome Liar's Moon by Elizabeth C. Bunce - check out Katie's review of this intricate fantasy - while I'm waiting not very patiently for the just-published Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore!)

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