So. The other day I went to Kew Gardens to see the magnolia* blossom.
It was slightly too late in their season, and thus magnolia were not quite as beautiful as they had been in previous years. Although I saw many flowers, and explored parts of Kew I had never been to before, I did not have a great time. My morning had been horrible, and that had polluted my entire day.
After I had left Kew Gardens, on the way to the train station, I passed the Kew Bookshop. Now, there are very few bookshops that near my home. This is a shame, because I love reading. I like immersing myself in the imagination of stranger, and I enjoy the feeling of paper in my hands. Due to my bad day, and my bookshop withdrawal, I carpe diemed, and went inside.
I like the Kew Bookshop. They have a good selection of books, and they have lots of recommended reads plaque-y things. That day, I ignored all of the staff's surely sound recommendations, and chose the most trashy YA novel I could find.
Either Robin LaFevers or the staff of the Kew Bookshop had clearly looked into their crystal ball one day, and said "Ok. A mildly depressed girl will read one of my books/buy something from our bookshop. Let's make it her ideal ." Did they succeed?
Well, yes. Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers**.
Grave Mercy is set in 15th century Brittany. The story is about a young woman named Ismae who was sired by St. Mortmain, the god of death. After she escapes her disastrous marriage, she seeks refuge in the convent of St. Mortmain. The convent's nuns, who were likewise Death's bastards, train His daughters into being the ultimate assassins. The targets of their hits are those whom they feel that He wishes to be dead. They call themselves Death's Handmaidens.
How could I, as a morbid teenager who likes period dramas, not read this book?! Doesn't it sound great? It surely does. Anyhow, although I read Grave Mercy in four days total, once I got into it I read the majority of the book in one day.
Yes. Death's Handmaidens. I really enjoyed the assassin element of the book. To my mind, assassins are like vampires. There are few stories which can't be improved*** with their addition. Also, I liked the idea of why the daughters of Mortmain carried out the hits. They can tell exactly who should die either by vision, or by seeing a "marque" upon the victim's flesh. If, for example, Ismae was supposed to strangle some corrupt baron, she would see thin dark line on his neck.
Besides the whole Death's handmaidens (!!!) aspect of the book, the best thing about Grave Mercy was the love interest, Duval. Sigh. I loved Duval. He is the second most attractive character from a period drama I have ever seen or read. The first is, of course, Lord Flash from Black Adder.
Duval was described as having lithe muscles, gray eyes, and dark hair. He was about 24, which is a bit older than the average YA love interest (Ismae was 18, FYI). Duval made snide comments, but he was fiercely loyal to those whom he protected. Duval is basically my ideal person. Sigh. We are separated only by how he is a fiction character, and the fact that he would have lived over five-hundred years ago.
Regardless of Duval (<3), and the handmaidens of death, was this a good book? I feel that questions such as these must be answered on both a emotional and factual level.
On an emotional level, I did enjoy it. On a factual level, it was okay. The plot was slightly messy****, and the writing wasn't spectacular. If I were a cold, impartial critic, I would give it three stars. On an emotional level (Duval!! Handmaidens of Death!!!) I would give it 4.5 stars.
Thus, I shall officially state that Grave Mercy is worth 3.75 stars out of five. Don't go out of your way to read it, but if you come across it, and there isn't anything you want to read more, buy it.
P.S. I liked Isamae. Compared to many YA heroines, she was very pleasant. She was independent, and a fierce fighter. She was not whiny, and she had struggled through great hardship. And yes, she killed several people throughout the book (due to her being an assassin and everything), but *SPOILER* she eventually realises that killing people because of smudges on their skin is actually wrong.
P.S.S. (Coherent blog post structure is for losers*****) I'm in two minds about buying the sequel. The second book in the series is not about Ismae and Duval (!!!), but instead follows another one of Death's handmaidens. This is both a con (No more Duval!!), and a pro (A Ismae's and Duval's stories were basically tied up at the end of Grave Mercy, and thus a second novel about them would be forced) . I shall place the sequel in my list of books to buy, as long as nothing else catches my attention.
*Magnolias are my favourite flower.
**Robin Lafevers is an awesome pen name.
***In a somewhat campy way.
**** I'm not sure how much of the messines was due to me reading most of Grave Mercy at 2 am.
*****This is an example of self-depreciating sarcasm!!!