Hmmm... I still can't decide if I liked it or not. Here's some questions:
Did it have the coolest synopsis, like, ever? Yes
Did I expect to be blown away? Yes
Was I, in fact, blown away? Not at all
Did I still enjoy it? Yes
Was I bored at times? Yes
Did I still read it extremely fast? Yes
Was it amazing? No
Was it terrible? No
Overall what was it? Disappointing.
So why did I give it 2.5 stars?
It was good. It just wasn't what I expected in the slightest. Here's why:
Reading the synopsis, this seemed like a kick-ass heroine who will have to make impossible choices, a heart-wrenching romance and a very creepy convent. Unfortunately, none of these came true. What you ended up with was an okay heroine, a lukewarm romance, a very non-creepy convent and loads of courtly intrigue and politics. Luckily, I find politics rather interesting or I would never have finished this book.
First off, Ismae. I couldn't decide if I liked her or not until the very end, when she finally figures out who she is and who she wants to be. She's an assassin, which is freaking awesome, but half the time you forget she's an assassin when she's busy lusting over Duval. As for impossible choices, she never really has to make any. There isn't any moral conflicts going on when she is asked whether she wants to join the convent. She never thinks of what she's getting herself into, never even thinks about it at all, but simply agrees to join. In the synopsis it says "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?" (view spoiler)[ Well, it's easy. She doesn't. This happens so far into the book that she never has to wrestle with whether she should kill him or disobey her god. That would have made it more interesting. Even to see her be forced to kill her first target then struggle as she watches him begging then kills him anyway, would have been intense to read. Instead, she simply kills him. (hide spoiler)] Despite all that, Ismae is a strong female lead. She's determined, tough and loyal, but also has wits to match, so in the end, I liked reading about her.
Next off, Gavriel Duval. Isn't Gavriel such a cool name? Yeah, too bad Ismae calls him Duval for the entire book, and quite often 'my lord Duval'. Sure, that was the times, but it doesn't feel very personal to call the man you love 'my lord' right after you kiss him. As for Duval himself, I was rather disappointed. Sure, he's pretty well developed, he's got his flaws and his strengths, all the signs of a strong lead, but for me there just wasn't anything special about him. He was rather boring and he and Ismae never shared a conversation or kiss that tugged at my heart-strings (view spoiler)[ though when he told her 'do not cry' while he lay dying, that came pretty close. Too bad he ruined it a moment later with his next comment (hide spoiler)].
And then there was the convent. A convent full of assassin nuns who serve the god of death? Hell, yeah! Did anyone who read this book not read it for that exact reason??? Anyway, the nuns were cool. But they were also rather boring and ordinary, not nearly creepy enough. I mean, they serve the god of death for crying out loud! Was I wrong to expect sinister rituals by candlelight in the middle of a graveyard? Moss covered stone walls, dark corridors, eerie torches on the wall? Crypts, tombs, something, anything even slightly disturbing? Hey, but they did have very cool gadgets.
Courtly intrigue: Well, the book did get one thing right, the courtly intrigue was rightfully, well, intriguing. Not knowing who you can trust, or even when you do know someone is a traitor, not understanding what their motives are, was reason enough to keep reading. That was the strongest point of the novel: everyone had a motive. There was no black or white, almost every single character was a shade of grey, which was fascinating. Even when the traitor was revealed, it was a slow build, Ismae suspecting them, then finally proving her suspicions right. Sure, it was obvious who the traitor was before she figured it out, but at least she figured it out herself, unlike when they protagonist only finds out who the antagonist is when the antagonist tells them. The protagonist is usually shocked, but the reader had figured it out a long time ago, which is extremely frustrating. In Grave Mercy, our heroine is smart enough to suspect everyone, and eventually figures it all out herself, no help required. Now that's a smart heroine.
So, while there's tons of politics, there isn't nearly enough action, believable romance or character development with the minor characters (such as Beast, de Lornay, Isabeau, François, d'Albret, Madame Dinan, Sybella, etc...). The romance and action were okay at best, it never had your heart pounding, your eyes glued to the book while you flipped the pages. The romance had lots of sexual tension and developed at a good pace, but it never felt all that convincing in my opinion. The action never really got started, there weren't many assassinations, just talking about how cool Ismae's weapons were, not actually using them. The other characters really lacked depth. I'd love to have learned more about Beast in particular and also about Sybella. Since the next book is centered around her, I bet we'll find out more about her story and why she was at the palace. (view spoiler)[ My theory is that the knight she has to save is Chancellor Crunard's son and that Sybella might possibly be d'Albret's daughter. Just a guess, but I'm very curious to find out. (hide spoiler)]
Anne of Brittany was actually a very strong character. She might not have been a handmaiden of death, but she was a very mature and likeable girl who was proud to call herself duchess of Brittany.
The story could use some editing, it's not necessary to be nearly as long as it is, and many sentences are rambling or repetitive. The language is never particularly descriptive or pretty but very proper, even at the beginning of the book when Ismae is a country girl who can't read or write. I would have expected her inner dialogue to more reflect not only the time, setting but also her own upbringing.
A couple scenes stand out in my mind at being completely useless or stupid, while some I really enjoyed. My favourite scene was on the battlefield where Ismae comes to terms with what it really means to be a daughter of death. On the other hand, the scene where Ismae saves Duval from poisoning was pretty ridiculous and not handled all that well.
One very high point, was the historical setting. Fifteenth-century Brittany is a fascinating place, one rarely explored, so I didn't know much about it which was fun. I found out more about Brittany while and after reading so this is one book that managed to entertain (sorta) and teach something!
Overall: 2.5 stars for meh characters, action and romance but an intriguing plot and a setting that taught me new things. If the next one looks good enough, I'll be tempted to pick it up.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)