Margaret Fisk's Reviews > Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
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Apr 18, 12


Grave Mercy has only one significant flaw: it is written in present tense. This choice threw me out of the story on occasion because of unexpected verb forms. Most readers probably wouldn’t even notice. Every other aspect of the book was compelling and wonderful. Whenever I thought I had grasped the tropes being employed, the trope would be twisted on its head to become something else.

This novel has a romantic subplot, but it is in no way a romance. It’s about a trained assassin, but has none of the hardening traditional to one. It unfolds as an alternate world fantasy with mundane herb knowledge treated as magic, but there’s more to the mythology than superstition, and its presentation is directly tied into the themes and plot of the story.

On a pure craft standing, Grave Mercy was a fascinating read. It personalizes court politics, shows the complexity behind the shifting loyalties and motivations, and manages to present a mystery plausibly. (I saw the key pieces because I’m a careful reader, but most would just look back and realize the groundwork had been laid for this result.)

Ismae’s life starts out brutal and inescapable, or so she thinks. As an opening, it warns the reader this will not be a light and happy tale, and yet it also provides a clear picture of the world beyond the walls of the convent she is then taken to where she trains to be an assassin for her father, Death himself. While her training and the relationships there are interesting, it’s once she is released back into the world where the story became something I made excuses to keep reading. Ismae’s growing relationship with Duval, the bastard brother and staunch defender of the duchess Ismae has sworn to protect in the name of St. Mortain; her conflicts in loyalty; and her growth from an extension of the convent’s will to a freethinking agent of her father, even the relationships at court and who is working with whom for what purpose, are compelling and complex.

This book does not offer a light, fluffy, escape read. Instead, it sucks you into the complex, convoluted life of court politics with enemies from without and within. It’s the type of book you want to savor and yet can’t help devouring. For me, it’s something to read slowly, absorbing every detail. For others, it should be the book to read and reread, discovering something new with every pass.

I started with its flaw because the choice of present tense (and first person, something I hadn’t even registered) is the type of thing to turn away skimmers, those who check the first chapter and move on because reading present tense can be annoying. That would be a mistake. There is so much more to this book than the tense choice, and the language will drag you in so deep that tenses are forgotten. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. If ever there is a book to overcome a knee-jerk reaction to present tense, this is it.

FYI, I received this book as an advanced copy through NetGalley. I, however, will be buying the physical copy, not for myself, but for my sons, who have yet to accept the convenience of eBooks.
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