This is just a tiny little review, mostly copied from my blog, because I don’t have enough time to do a proper write-up of Grave Mercy but I do want to recommend it to anyone who likes historical YA fiction.
Characters: **** (4 stars)
Character Development: **** (4 stars)
Plot: ***** (5 stars)
Writing: **** (4 stars)
Overall: **** (4 stars)
Age recommendation: 13+
I borrowed Grave Mercy from the library, following my best book buddy’srecommendation. I’d seen some girls get really excited about the sequel in the Teen section a few weeks ago. Rosie just had to say, “Nun-assassins in 15th century Brittany,” and I immediately flopped into a comfy library armchair to start reading.
Grave Mercy follows teenaged peasant Ismae as she escapes from a brutal marriage to become a handmaiden of Saint Mortain, the God of Death from the Breton peoples’ old religion. I loved reading about her time spent at the mysterious convent with other nuns, learning about concealed weapons, proper dancing technique, and the importance of protecting her country and its duchess from France and other, more cunning, enemies. When Ismae gets sent to investigate the source of political turmoil, she needs to co-operate with a man of questionable loyalty, and her loyalties to her heart; her convent; and the Saint of Death himself are tested as she finds herself involved in the Duchess’s court navigating treachery with no one she can trust but herself. I loved the historical details of Grave Mercy; Ismae is self-reliant and brave without ever adopting a perspective so modern as to draw us out of the story’s time period.
There is an element of romance in the book which I didn’t necessarily enjoy, but it never quite overshadows Ismae’s strong feelings for her country and her devotion to Saint Mortain, so I shan’t complain too much about that here. I think that other readers might find that the romantic elements add another layer of interest to the story, if they like that sort of thing. Rest assured that there is more to Ismae’s motivations than her own heart, and her love interest is an interesting character in his own right.
I didn’t know much about Brittany before I read Grave Mercy, but now I have a newfound respect for the young Duchess Anne, who is a major character in the book and a complex but admirable role model. Ismae herself is all sorts of awesome, especially since she recognizes her weaknesses and questions authority with such honesty that her own journey of faith is nearly as suspenseful as the dangerous plot which comes from the political intrigue. The historical detail was subtle but intelligent; I closed the book feeling both entertained and educated. And, come on, Death nuns with crossbows! I can’t wait to read the sequel, which focuses on a different Sister from the Abbey of Mortain who appears briefly in Grave Mercy and left me curious about her role in the grand scheme of things.