on May 25, 2012
Upon finishing this book, the critical reviewer in me had a bad moment. It raised its hackles and started stalking back through the book for something to comment on, something that annoyed me, something that stuck out. It took me a really long moment to realize that I had just simply enjoyed this book. Then the reviewer in me freaked out, because I hate throwing around 5 stars. But so the rating stays.
Why, you ask? Well that's what I'm here to tell you.
This book started in the exact right place. You get an insight into what makes Ismae who she is-a poignant one-that doesn't last for more than a few pages before you get to what you know you really want to read about, the killing nuns. However, those few pages are important, done well, and really allow the rest of the book to be accessible. The book is in the first person, and at first glance Ismae isn't exactly a narrator like Sophie from the Hex Hall books. However, because you know where she's coming from, her matter-of-fact way of speaking makes sense and connects the reader rather than repels them. And makes her dry sense of humor that much more awesome.
Speaking of characters, few books have such a solid cast of background characters such as this book. Even the characters that you didn't see that often were well written and not stereotypes. From the younger duchess to Duval's second-in-commands, I was in love with every single one of them-even the villains! (In fact, in places, especially the villains.)
I'll admit, after reading Illuminate by Aimee Agresti Grave Mercy scared me because of its length. It's 549 pages long. However, every single one of those pages was well used. Plenty of assassin stuff goes on, as well as plenty of intrigue and plotting. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized I actually couldn't guess what was coming-and I certainly didn't guess the ending! (Well, in part. It's a romance; some things are a given.)
And the romance. Color me SO HAPPY. Sure, it's the typical line where they start off disliking each other and then realize they love each other, but it worked. The reasons they were so untrusting of each other were REAL. The worries they had were REAL. The progression of their relationship was REAL. They came to trust each other before they came to love each other, which is how it should be. Hallelujah.
Lastly, Grave Mercy made me realize just how much modern day/modernish day plus a few years into the future where everything is a wreck books I'd be reading. I love historical fiction, and Grave Mercy made me miss it ridiculously. I didn't realize it until Ismae legitimately used the word "poleaxed" in a sentence and I started giggling, because how many modern teens use that? All around, this book was a refreshing change from the other books I'd been reading that was filled with great characters, a fantastical historical world, great mythology and a real romance. If you like historical romance headlines by killer females (yes, pun intended, deal with it) then I certainly recommend Grave Mercy. Even if you don't do much historical fiction, I still recommend it. The history and it's figures were done so well I absolutely forgot it WAS historical fiction. It's one of my favorites so far this year!
Where should I start with this book? I really adored this book. I read it in a few short days. I was extremely interested in just about everything that was going on and my expectations were exceeded.
The heroine, Ismae, was really great. She is kick-ass in a rather subtle way. She's not overly so, but her cleverness lends a hand, making her a force to be reckoned with. She's very strong, despite a very troubled and painful past. She acts very much according to how she's been taught and I found it very realistic. Her internal struggle is fascinating. I loved watching her question what was right or wrong, as well as who she could trust. Her "abilities" and skills were very interesting and added to a very rich storyline. This is what makes the story loosely fantasy, but definitely not enough for me to actually label this story paranormal.
Ismae's hero, Gavriel Duval, was an awesome character. He was loyal, strong, true, and just a pleasure to read about. He deals with an internal struggle nearly as much as Ismae does, but his deals with several outside conflicts. He is very family-oriented - every bit of politics in this book goes back to his family. His romantic side is very sweet and I loved seeing him with Ismae. He is the first man to every really treat her respectfully and not in a completely horrible, hateful way. It's easy to see why she is drawn to him and their romance is very believable.
The supporting characters are extremely rich and well-written. Duval's friends are fun to read and quickly make you want to be their friends, as well. Duval's family and the rest of the political characters are fleshed out and each has a very distinct personality that is really fun to read.
The plot is where this book truly shines, however. This novel is full of mystery and high-intrigue. There's a lot more going on than initially believed and Ismae finds her self right in the middle of it all. I noticed that another reviewer posted that she didn't like the amount of politics that this book contained. This concern is valid - there's a huge amount of politics. In fact, the majority of the main plot is full of political intrigue. However, as someone that absolutely loathes politics, I really enjoyed it. I think when you got to know the characters involved and the motives behind their actions, you become emotionally invested in them. Their lives simply revolve around politics, which is very realistic for the roles that they play.
The setting is rich and beautiful. I've never before read a book that took place in medieval Brittany and I was very happy with this foray into such. The court is full of interesting characters and everything is described in such a vivid way that it's like you're actually there.
Also, to make a note, this is not a typical Young Adult novel. While Ismae is 17, this is medieval Brittany, meaning she is considered an adult - indeed, quite past marrying age. I definitely wouldn't let middle-grade YA readers get their hands on this. There are many topics that firmly aim it toward older-age YA readers: murder/assassination, sex (though definitely not graphic), abuse, etc. Adult readers will be just as happy with this book as older YA readers.
All in all, this was a truly fabulous book. I couldn't be happier with the story. I can't wait to get my hands on the next book, due in spring of 2013. This was an excellent story that I'm very glad to have read.
on August 15, 2014
Holy Cow. Hooooooolly Cow. I’m just floored by how much I adored this book, and now I’m wondering what took me so long to get to it? I mean, I do know, I got it from Arcycle a few months ago, but I was trying to read all of my upcoming releases first, and now that I have finished all 2013 releases, now I get to dive into all these other books that have been calling my name for way too long. Now? Now I get to ask myself why I waited so long to read this amazing book. I know one of the biggest drawbacks is the size, but man was it worth reading.
For starters, I loved how this was like a historical fiction with some magic wrapped into it. There is nothing like taking the past and adding something to make it lively because, as a historian, the past can be boring and so can historical fictions that just don’t understand how the past really happened. I think I would actually liken this to a sort of Game of Thrones lite. Sure there are no dragons or things like that, but there is that element that this could have been the past if not for the crazy mysticism.
I adored the characters almost right away. Of course there was some getting used to what the hell was going on and adjusting to who all these people were. Its hard to deny that when you have such a complicated plot and so many different character. That was my biggest problem I think that there were a few characters that I couldn't keep straight, namely the high lords that were all kinds of wrapped up in the plot.
I adored Ismae and her strength in the face of everything that could go wrong that did. I really enjoyed her getting to know Duval and how even though she was sort of told not to trust men, she clearly trusted her gut which was much more important. The ending of this book was the icing on the cake and left me wanting to return to this world. Finding out that we were going to get another book left me delighted abet, slightly disappointed that it was not about Ismae.
I am excited to see what the next book is going to bring and to see exactly how many more installments of this book we are going to get. I have admitted on several occasions that I am not a huge fantasy fan, I am really enraptured by this book and this series.
on December 20, 2012
I did not like this book. I'm in the minority it appears. I loved Graceling and I thought 'oh, another book about a girl assassin.' My mistake. The story involves a girl named Ismae who is whisked away to a convent to be trained as an assassin. But this is not just your grandmother's convent. This convent worships Mortain, god of death. Hmmmm. Ismae trains for 3 years and becomes an assassin with a whole array of skills and gifts (including expertise in poisons, which sounded like it was straight out of Poison Study). The book rushes through all of that and then the real story begins, as Ismae is sent out on a mission to work with the hero--Duval. They don't like each other, but then fall in love while gallivanting through castle politics and assorted adventures and misadventures. I give the romance a B, good, but not great. I had three major problems with this book (skip the minor ones). First, maybe I'm just ignorant, but I've never heard of Mortain before, so you're going to have walk me through this new god thing. I don't need a detailed theology, but I need something. But, the author basically just tosses this Mortain guy and his adorational following out onto the table and says, 'here, take it or leave it.' Well, I left it. And if you don't fully buy into this Mortain cult, then the whole house of cards kind of collapses. Second, being an assassin and killing people is a dirty, messy business, but Ismae hardly gets her hands dirty in this book, so I never really accepted her as this big, bad, dangerous assassin. Case in point, early on she kills someone by garroting him. Well, garroting is really ugly, horrible, awful way to be killed -- remember Luca Brasi? -- but here this gruesome way to die is shrugged off in a couple of mild, antisceptic sentences, showing that the author isn't really into this assassin thing. Third, there are some really strange plot twists and contrivances. Case in point--Duval is poisoned and is at death's door, then he miraculously recovers offstage and saves the day, then he relapses back to death's door, only to be miraculously healed by Ismae in a manner that is so utterly stupid that I can't believe any editor worth their salt would have put up with it. We're not straining credulity here, we're destroying it . . . Sigh.
on December 30, 2013
I feel I need to apologize to author for the criticism that follows, because no doubt it takes a lot of effort to write and complete a book.
But honestly, this was awful. I found myself embarrassed for the author when reading dialogue and descriptions. The story itself had a relatively interesting premise--that combined with the reviews sold it for me, but beyond that here's what went wrong:
Background: LaFevers doesn't make a true effort to establish the backstory (Ismae's father and husband and the convent), so that when Ismae refers back to them, you can relate to her feelings of fondess. Instead, you have to force yourself to believe and agree with Ismae that the Reverend Mother, Sister Seraphina, Sybella and others are caring and friendly, for example.
Characters: This is the heart of my complaints. I think all of the characters were flat. Ismae is not a critical thinker, until you hit the middle of the book and suddenly she is. She even has random spirts of it in the beginning of the book--but they seem without logical origin. She, like other characters, suddenly gain characteristics like insight, sarcasm, wit, etc. randomly without evidence of why they came about these qualities. Duval appears in the novel immediately angry--he's basically just angry all the time. LaFever's doesn't really show why. Sybella, who is introduced as an Omen-like character in need of an exorcism, turns out to be Ismae's best friend--over night. What the heck.
Plot: Convoluted and a lot of boring details and dialogues. Actually, I read another review that points out how boring the history was and at the time I thought the reviewer was just immature and couldn't handle that type of detail. In fact, the reviewer was right. I think the story needed a sound plot with well thought out historical details and descriptions but as it was, it was lacking and when included it was distracting and boring and all over the place. Not to mention, the love story was completely sappy, lacking in depth and proper build-up. It's slow, yes, as one reviewer described, but just because something is slow doesn't mean it is well-developed. More like, they dislike each other for half the book and then suddenly they love each other. And suddenly, everything is ok because surely Mortain wants only the best for his "daughter." LaFevers had a great set up too--Ismae and Duval could have had so many delightful, ironic incidences that happen when characters lead double lives. When Duval and all his friends say how unlikely the whole situation is, the reader also believes that this whole thing is ridiculous and if everyone can see through this so-called farce, then what's the point in pretending that there is one to begin with? The point, of course, is that a well-done farce gives the author an opportunity to delight her readers in funny twists and paradoxes that make a book interesting.
Setting: Totally dreary. I mean, I took a break to see the sunshine just so that I could remember that such a thing exists in the world. LaFevers has all the greatness of the medieval world to draw from, but instead she doesn't do a good job describing drudgery or finery.
Dialogue and language: LaFevers needs to do a bit more research into medieval language--not because she needs to be accurate (which she does) but because she needs to develop a more consistent, less-jarring medieval voice. Anytime words like "methinks" or other lingo were used, I wanted to scratch the words out. They just seemed unnatural and as if the author was trying too hard to remind the reader, "Hey, this is medieval stuff, guys. Hey! I said, 'medieval.'"
Here's a summary, I guess, although now, looking back to my own review, it is hopelessly lacking, and I blame my poor writing on LaFevers, who's clearly overtaken my writing capabilties:
1) There's no show, all tell. LaFever's beats us on the head with "insights," "clues," "themes," "lessons."
2) You can't make a reader empathize with characters. You have to draw them in and show them why and how the readers could relate with them.
3) Every part of this book is cliche. The dialogue, the "wit," the plot, the evils, the goods. It's so cliche, it's jarring and embarrassing, and that makes this book a very painful read.
I really disliked this book, even though I somewhat wanted to like it (probably because I spent time looking for a good book to read). I suppose it belongs in that pile with Twilight, Divergent, and whatnot.
on June 7, 2012
** spoiler alert **
Overall, 1.5 stars.
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 France, 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.
Ismae was raised as the daughter of a turnip farmer so there was no reason to expect that she had any special powers, however she seemed to heal quickly from the beatings her father gave her, never gets sick, and is able to see when people will die. So the Convent of St Mortain, one of the ancient gods of death of the country of Brittany took her. There she was taught to be an assassin.
Anne is the Duchess of Brittany in 1485, a time when the country is in danger of being taken over by France, especially if Anne does not marry someone approved by the French Envoy. Gavriel Duval is a half -brother of Anne and seems to be her only protector, yet Ismae is asked to watch him by the convent to determine his loyalty.
Is this a YA book? There are parts that the author, LaFevers, has based on the real country and real person, Anne Duchess of Brittany. So the book has what one imagines happened in court, talking between nobles about politics between countries, promises of men for war and marriage that might be secret or open, many murders, sexual trysts, and women who are considered property rather than persons in their own right. I don't believe that younger readers will stay with the story, but I do think that older female readers will love it. The sex is not as explicit as in some other YA books I have read. Is this historically accurate, a little, but mostly not and that is why the book is called a novel. The former teacher in me can't help but believe that a good literature teacher can help students understand the difference between historical literature and informational books about history.
I like the book. I will read the next book in the series. This is one book that I will pass along to other readers. This book is full of the typical court intrigue, spies, and the reader can never be sure who really supports the cause of the country and Duchess of Brittany. If you enjoy reading court intrigue, magic, and romance you will enjoy this book too.
on November 16, 2014
I have very mixed feelings about this book. For the most part I enjoyed it but there were a couple parts where it nearly hit rock bottom. This book is a mix of history with a few new characters tossed into the mix to add some unique spice. Mostly positive thoughts on this new series so far.
Ismae is a very strong young woman and is an easy character to admire. She rises above a harsh childhood and is rescued from a contemptible marriage and moved to a convent where the women there serve Mortain (Death). She is trained in the ways of an assassin in his service and specializes in poisons. This part greatly appealed to me at first.
She is one her early assignments when she meets Duval. She is assigned to appear as his mistress to gather intel for the abbey on the inner workings of whether he or others are loyalist to the Duchess (Anne). Both are very distrustful of the others at first but when Anne's life is threatened, and the abbey gives her new orders Ismae is forced to make some crucual choices that can change everything
I loved the characters in this book and I liked the light mystery and intrigue it presents. What I did not like, however, were the info dumps. Especially around 20%-50% mark of the book. The political aspects and family relations are quite overwhelming and drastically cuts into the pace of the plot. So it starts off fast then levels out and suddenly hits a crawling pace for short bursts.
I almost did not finish but I did and am glad for that. The second half of the book does pick up again and the historical plotline blends much more smoothly with that if Ismae.
I did enjoyed the tracing of the historical happenings of this book. Many of the political happenings is accurate with some original characters. The book starts off a more edgy book but does take a dive for the more romantic side as the book moves along. Overall a very well done blend. 3 1/2 stars
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review*
on May 8, 2014
This book was over 500 pages and yet after finishing it, I felt like not much happened. I've seen some great reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and also on Booktube and I guess I might be the outlier here, but I just didn't connect with the book. It's hard to really pinpoint why so I'll try my best to do so here.
Writing style - I think the writing style really got to me. The book opened up with a really exciting scene but it slowed soon after that and it never really picked up again. I think what really got to me was the first person present tense narrative as well as the linear writing style. Linear writing meaning, "I woke up and had breakfast. After breakfast we needed to leave. We were on the road for two days only to rest our horses...etc." I'm not really sure how to explain this further, but I like the books I read to have more inner dialogue and immersive detail. I want to understand the world, the characters, and why they do what they do...especially in a book categorized as fantasy.
Characters - No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't connect to Ismae. Again, this might go back to my complaints about the writing style, but I felt like her character was set up so well, but was executed poorly. She had a really interesting and harsh past. I mean her parents didn't want her! Although she mentions this in the book, but there's not enough inner dialogue for me to understand how she's feeling because of her past or how her past might have molded her into the person she is at present time. She has this weird connection and attraction to Gavriel but then we're not given enough reasons why that is. Gavriel also wasn't developed enough and we as readers don't understand him at all because we're seeing him through Ismae's eyes. So by the time the "love" happened, I didn't buy it. It's really sad because I felt like these characters had such great potential.
Plot - I understand where Robin Lafevers was going with the plot. And I saw the potential political intrigue but it didn't do it for me. Maybe this was an epic fantasy written for the YA genre, but I've read other fantasy novels written for teens, and I know teens are not dumb. However, this plot felt like it was dumbed down. I felt like the whole novel, I was reading about who the Duchess should marry. And the political reasons for why she should or should not marry someone was not well explained. If it was explained, it was at surface level, making it unbelievable.
I really wanted to like this book because it was intriguing just reading the cover flap. And I heard that the sequel is better, but because of the writing style, I sadly will not be continuing with this series.
on September 5, 2014
GRAVE MERCY was a dark spine-chilling, highly thrilling, and intensely beautiful adventure! I was captivated by this story, and the struggles that the characters had to go through. I was quickly swept into this engaging world until the very end!
Robin LaFevers has exceeded my expectations with GRAVE MERCY on soooo many levels. She delivered a complex world, with a fiercely strong heroine, with conspiracies and plots, lies and deceptions, and determined side characters with plenty of personality and charisma to have you yearning for more!
Ismae Rienne was sired by the God of Death himself. At birth, her mother had tried to have her expelled from her womb, but ultimately failed. Now, fourteen years later, Ismae lives with her "so called father," and endures his harsh words and even harder hands. She has no choice but to accept his treatment, for who would help the daughter of death? All who see her, shun her, all who hear of her, degrade her, and all who know her, hate her. She is unworthy of the air she breaths, at least that is until someone out there thinks she is worthy. And that is when Ismae's life changes....
Finally, her calling is revealed, and she is saved from having to endure the wrath of the husband her father has sold her too. She is whisked away to the convent of St. Mortain, where she will serve her God of Death, and live out his wishes by caring out his will of death. She will be trained in all the arts of killing a man, in which she finds there is many ways to do...
Three Years Later...
Blessed with her death kissed gifts from the God of Death, her quick witted mind, and all the training the convent has instilled in her. Ismae is finally ready to step foot outside the convent to carry out her gods wishes, to finally kill a man...
But Ismae finds that their is more to this world then she's been trained to think. She has made her vow that the Duchess she serves and the God she worships will always come first. But what of her heart? Is that to be forbidden what it yearns?
Ismae is thrust into a dangerous world at court where she's been assigned by the convent to identify the trader that is aiding the French eager to turn the tides of the oncoming war. But her convent insist that they've already found the trader. And it just so happens to be the same man that not only has befriended her, but has also stolen her heart. She knows that he is not the trader. She feels it with every ounce of her soul. But with no proof and no other solid suspect, she fears the order may come, and if it does, will she be able to carry out her gods will? Or... is it even her gods will she is upholding?
All these questions come to the surface as Ismae unravels the web of lies, deception and traitorous behavior to find the trader, keep the Duchess safe, all while trying to uphold her convents orders. But the orders are starting to collide with her heart, and she knows that the orders are thriving off misinformation. But with a vow she's made to never question the wishes of her god, how can she possibly not follow orders?
Ismae will have to determine who can be trusted, and who is worth killing. Because someone in the Duchess inner circle is the trader. But who, is the ultimate goal she will have to face. And when it comes down to it, will she be able to trust her convent, or her heart?
GRAVE MERCY was an absolutely AMAZING book!! I loved every single thing about it! If you haven't read it yet, please don't be like me and wait years before you finally decide to pick it up. I was kicking myself for waiting so long!
Overall, GRAVE MERCY was a powerful, pulse racing, hands shaking, thrilling adventure, that was more then I could of predicted. With it's powerful political intrigue, and strongly fierce characters, GRAVE MERCY is one to keep you up late, demanding just one more chapter. I would HIGHLY recommend GRAVE MERCY to anyone!!!