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Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, 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?

549 pages, Hardcover

First published April 3, 2012

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Robin LaFevers

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Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 510 books402k followers
December 4, 2013
hooked me with a great premise: medieval nun assassins who serve Saint Mortain, the god of death. The novel is set in an alternate realm of Brittany, where the local gods have been subsumed by Christianity and renamed saints. The old ways live on, however, especially among the daughters of Saint Mortain, who serve as the realm's assassins, killing those who need to be killed.

Our lethal heroine, Ismae, escapes a life of poverty and abuse by joining the convent. Soon she is plunged into a game of intrigue and villainy as the realm tries to maintain its independence from France. Unfortunately for Ismae, one of the people she is sent to spy on (and possibly assassinate) is the first man she feels she might love.

The novel is driven by mystery, romance and subtle skulduggery. It isn't exactly an adventure novel, so don't expect a fight on every page, but if you stick with it, it's well worth reading! I'd recommend it to YA fans, especially those with an interest in history. The closest parallel I can think of is Cashore's Graceling -- another fantastic romance about a deadly heroine.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews294k followers
May 5, 2012

This book is like small dashes of awesomeness randomly sprinkled throughout long stretches of boredom. Perhaps I would have been far less bored if I cared more for fantasy/historical fiction that focuses most of its energy on the romance story. Perhaps I would have been less bored if the romance had been the kind to creep up on you, so that you're inwardly pleading that the characters will get together long before they even acknowledge their attraction for one another. Perhaps.

However, the romance was the main player in this book and it was the kind that sprang up immediately and left our heroine instantly breathless every time she saw Mr Duval after their first meeting. I prefer a book that is about more than a bit of romancing, but I'm not immune to a well-told love story either and I can easily be persuaded to award a book at least three stars if I'd been sold on it. Unfortunately, I wasn't. It all happened too soon, too predictably, too obviously. The heroine - Ismae - is a trained assassin that has some serious man issues (with understandable reason), so why can she do nothing but ogle Duval's sexy body in armour when they are in life-threatening situations?

The beginning, in my opinion, was the best part of the whole book. A young woman has been scarred since her mother attempted to abort her pregnancy but she survived, and the marque she bears is that of Death's servants. She is rescued away from the beginning of an abusive marriage to be taken to a convent... but these are no ordinary nuns. She is trained as an assassin, taught how to fight, how to create complicated poisons to kill instantly or drag out a death for days. She is the ultimate weapon and she uses her abilities to serve the convent and Death.

I cannot deny that this is a wonderful, kickass idea. The problem was that this part at the beginning is the most action-packed of the entire novel. After this, Ismae doesn't use her abilities that much beyond flashing her "womanly charms" at the men of court in order to find out information about who Brittany can really trust in these dangerous times when France is out for everything she can get. This book needed a serious injection of badassery.

The politics surrounding the issues of Brittany and France in the 1400s could have been much more interesting than it was, except for the fact that it was used as a platform for Ismae and Duval's budding romance. There was too much talking and eaves-dropping on conversations that didn't matter, too much family drama with characters I couldn't give a damn about, too much of all the wrong stuff. Not enough conspiracies, plotting, assassinations (she is an assassin, for pity's sake, was it too much to expect a little more of it?).

As much as I like this idea and part of me would like to know how this series progresses, I cannot imagine wanting to put myself through another 500 pages of boredom to find out. And one last thing, I'm sure some of the phrases used in this book weren't around one hundred years ago, never mind six hundred years ago... can't say for sure, I'm no language expert, but it sounded very 20th/21st century for me.
Profile Image for ♛ may.
806 reviews3,798 followers
March 6, 2019
i finished this book in less than a day bc it was so bloody good and im offended that it doesn't get the recognition and hype it deserves (yes im well aware that it was published in 2012 BUT STILL)

- i dont even know where to begin, this book was a ride
- it starts off with a young girl about to be sold by her father into a marriage with this gross monster of a man, but nah this girl ain't having it
- anyways she manages to get saved from that hell of a future and begins her life at a convent where she finds her life has already been planned for her
- i have to admit the beginning was very brief, we barely got to see her life in the convent and then it was mentioned somewhere how she spent 3 years there or smthing and i was like ??my dude that was only 30 pages??
- i do wish we got to see her interact with her convent sisters more and the bonds they build bc they do continue their friendship throughout the book but its not as solidified for the reader bc there isn't any background events to back it up
- and we didn't get to see her train, it was just very very brief and passed through really quickly
- that's probably my only dislikes about this book
- basically its haters to lovers but they arent really enemies bc they serve the same side, they just really dislike each other and THEY'RE KINDA FORCED TO BE IN A FAKE RELATIONSHIP
- aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
- (basically my new favourite thing)
- that along with the political intrigue, schemes, court life, plotting, secrecy, treachery, its ALL so well crafted
- i thought the author did an INCREDIBLE job of balancing the plot, action, and romance.
- as much as im going on about the ship (they stole my heart from the beginning im weak) it was sprinkled throughout the novel so it's not heavy on the mush
- its just every moment where they sniped at each other i was screaming
- damn i love a well written ship
- and then when he referred to her (SARCASTICALLY) as 'my fair assassin' & 'my little rebel' i fricken went ALL HEART EYES ldjfljaFJKDAFLA I LOVE THEM SO MUCH
- ahem, anyways.....
- im so impressed with the way it all turned out and i got so attached to the characters 😭😭😭
- the friendships that bloomed between anne and ismae
- so fricken beautiful you guys i love girls supporting girls and being happy and protective of each other im soft

this is really a sidenote, but it was giving me so many 'Reign' vibes (lolz i didnt even finish s1) and the entire time i was picturing Duval as Bash and i think that made me love him infinitely more 😍😍

“This is what I want to be. An instrument of mercy, not vengeance.”

4.5 stars!
Profile Image for Steph Sinclair.
461 reviews11.1k followers
April 6, 2012
Actual rating 2.5 stars

Grave Mercy started out very strong for me with its historical roots. I instantly loved Ismae and could empathize with her bleak outlook on life. The novel had strong characters, a good plot, and political intrigue. I mean, c'mon! An assassin nun?! A badass premise like that is just begging to be read and loved. So what in heaven's name went wrong for me? Why am I only giving this book 2.5 stars?

Well, I'll start with what I actually liked first. I did like all the characters, especially Ismae. It's a big deal for me to like the heroine since I usually hate them due to their inability to use their brains. But not Ismae, she's a smart cookie. This isn't shocking since I'd wager it does require a certain amount of neurons to assassinate someone. And while she does carry prejudices against men due to her harsh childhood, there is a good amount of character growth for her. So, gold star for her. Duval, the love interest, while initially not appealing to my co-blogger, won me over fairly easily. And for all those wondering, the "His" in "His Fair Assassin" is not referring to Duval. It refers to Ismae's god, Mortain. At least, I'm pretty sure. Lol.

I also really liked the plot and the historic features. I can tell LaFevers did lot of research and it truly does show. Many of the characters in the novel are real people and the events occurring, real events. I felt it was a nice change in pace to the usual YA books I've read.

But the good points just weren't enough for me to love this book. Unfortunately, the negatives outweigh the positives. *sigh* Another book falls short of badassery.

First of all, I probably would never have picked up this book on my own if Kennedy hadn't suggested a read-a-long. I choose to avoid historic fiction for a myriad of reasons, the most important being: It's just not my cup of tea. When I have to sit down and think about the setting, time period, a huge cast of characters I have to keep up with, political talk, yada, yada, yada... it just turns me right off. It's too much. And I don't like having to concentrate while reading for enjoyment. In this case, I liked it, but then, I didn't like it. For the first portion of the novel, I was unsure of *when* in history this book took place. Personally, I cannot sit back and enjoy a novel if it feels like I'm missing a crucial part of the story. And the time period was important for me. European history is just not my forte, so I took to Wikipedia looking for answers. Unfortunately for me, I now knew how the story would eventually end unless Levers decided to deviate from history. But at least I knew the time period is the late 1480s. Yay for me. Boo that I had to work so hard to find the answer.

Anyway, that was the first strike. The second? Boredom. Right around 40% the high from the strong beginning began to fade and along with it, my eyelids closed more often then I'd like them too. Ismae is a trained killer, but there wasn't much killing going on. In fact, there was mostly too much talking about the political plans being made to ward of the French from invasion. Honestly, I couldn't care less about any of that. I WANTED BLOOD. Then it got boring. Ismae spent more time talking about all her cool weapons, than using them. She'd go on and on about her poisons and how she could kill someone with this weapon or that poison. I wanted her to take a page from Nike.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
No excuses, Ismae!

*FRUSTRATION* What good is an assassin nun that just wanders the castle?! Do something! Anything. Do the Macarena. Sing a Ke$ha song!

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

But, I was still interested enough to continue on and I'm glad I did, because it started getting interesting. However, that leads me to my forth point...

This book was entirely too predictable. Could the bad guy be anymore obvious? LaFevers pretty much dangled him in front of us the entire novel like a carrot, so by the time the main characters goes, "It was you!" you're thinking, "It's about time." And that really made me sad because I thought, "There was no way it can be who I think it is. It's just too easy. There has to be one last plot twist." Sadly, there wasn't one and because of that, I think the ending suffered greatly.

Speaking of the ending, it felt incredibly rushed to me. All conflicts came to a more or less, hurried happy ending. As soon as the baddie is caught the book has nothing more to do then fall back on its underdeveloped romance between Ismae and Duval. That's not to say I disliked Duval and Ismae. I actually liked both characters a great deal, but together? Not so much. Grave Mercy spent entirely too much time revolving around the mystery and not much time developing the relationship. I think the book needed to make its mind up: Romance or plot. It couldn't have both believably, in this case.

*mild spoilers* But the part I really disliked about the book was the scene where Ismae had to purge poison from Duval's body by having sex with him. I was relatively enjoying the book up until that point. When I read that scene I rolled my eyes so hard. I mean, really?! REALLY?! She is a nun assassin and the biggest gift Mortain gives her involves her sexuality? She becomes a human bezoar! Would ya look at that? A woman's body really can be objectified in almost any profession! Awesome. \(-_-)/

The next book appears to be about Sybella, who I thought would have had a bigger role in this installment. The mystery surrounding the girl was thrown at the reader several times and we are given no information about her assignment. Same goes for Annith's story. I found that incredibly frustrating. I realize this is supposed to be a series and perhaps their stories will be told in the sequels, but leaving those gaps made Grave Mercy seem incomplete. I can't help to think the book would have been stronger as a stand alone novel instead of stretching their stories out over three books.

So, will I continue on with this series? At this time, probably not. But I would still recommend it to others looking for a change-up in their usual YA readings, especially those who enjoy historic fiction with romance and a pleasant splash of paranormal.

More reviews and other fantastically awesome things at Cuddlebuggery Book Blog
Profile Image for Jo.
268 reviews946 followers
November 17, 2011
“When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.”

Initial Final Page Thoughts.
Well, I thought I was going to hate that... quite the opposite.

High Points.
Ismae. Breton courts. Nuns. The coolest convent EVER. Saints. The genre (my first historical/fantastical adventure… very exciting). Death’s handmaidens. 13th century gadgets. Poison. Saints. Horsies. Beast. Anne. Secret passage ways. Traitors. Secrets. Corruption. A kiss can be deadlier if you mean it. Chess games that could give Ingmar Bergman a run for his money. Court dandies. Soul searching. Scars. Marques. Dreams.

Low Point.
Lessons on “Womanly Arts”… really? OK.
Hmm, the love interest/romantic situation was…. Interesting. More on this later.
And in regards to this… situation… there was a lot of unnecessary boy-induced angst. But again… more on this later.
Soooo much elbow grabbing. Is this a new thing? Do men really have a thing about elbows? I’m not sure I’m on board with this new craze.

OK, I loved Ismae. She was such a fantastic and original character and a fabulous narrator.
She is definitely the kind of girl you would ring up if you were in the depths of boy despair and needed someone to shake you out of it because she has these dry observations that were absolutely hilarious.

“Are men truly such idiots that they cannot resist two orbs of flesh?”

Oh, and did I mention she has bracelets that contain thin wire so she can GAROTTE men who dare to venture into her web of brilliance?! And a headband full of poisonous pearls? AND a knife that fits into her corset?!
Yeah, Wonder Woman would be jealous of Ismae’s gadgets.

The only thing that annoyed me about Ismae was the way she suddenly forgot that she was amazing whenever Gavriel loped onto the page.
Issy (can I call you Issy? No? Tough.) he touched your waist when he helped you off a horse and you completely lost it.
Maybe you should have attended your “Womanly Arts” class.
She has a dagger in her booties that can kill a man with a single touch but she turns into a quivering lamb when he grabs her elbow or looks at her in a smouldering way?
No, honey. Just no.

Love Interest.
Sigh. OK, I’ll be fair.
There was so much eye-rolling in the first few chapters that it wasn’t even funny. BUT it did get better…and there were a few scenes that made my Northern heart thaw a little.
I think when an author wants a dramatic Jane/Rochy kind of relationship it has to be full-on romantic peril. There has to be moments where the reader is chomping on their nails to find out whether they will get together or not.
There were no moments like this and my nails were left intact, which is good because I’ve just painted them a lovely colour.
It was so very obvious that these two would get together and it seemed everyone in Brittany (and probably France) could see this, except the two of them.
And they are both supposed to intelligent and fiery… but they sometimes came across as quite dim.
But like I said, it got there eventually. I know a lot of people will love the relationship and how it develops… but I’m cynical and crotchety and I like to whinge.
So even though the beginning was ridiculous, it did win me over eventually and it was very sweet in an ‘Oh, my lord, I just fell into your lap. Whatever shall we do now?’ way.
I just could have done with more… y’know… *looks over shoulder and lowers voice* sex.
It did amuse me, though, to think of the scene in the sequel when Gavriel meets Ismae’s dad.
“So…you’re dating my daughter.”
“Um.. yes. I mean no. With respect sir, I wouldn’t… um.. do anything…I mean… um. Yes. Yes I am.”
“You’d better not hurt her. Because if you do. I’ll kill you.”
*Death shares a look with Ismae and they chortle while sharpening their knives that could fit comfortably in their underwear. Gavriel laughs too…as he wets himself.”

Theme Tune.

I want to love you but I better not touch (Don't touch)
I want to hold you but my senses tell me to stop
I want to kiss you but I want it too much (Too much)
I want to taste you but your lips are venomous poison

I think this song has a lot of relevance to this story of Death’s handmaiden and her quest to save a duchess from traitors and staying to true to herself and her beliefs while falling in love with a…

Fine, whatever.
You come up with a song that is relevant to a story set in the courts of Brittany in the 13th century.
That chorus though, it’s pretty apt.
Think about it. Think about it.

Boy Angst Scale.
10/10. I think I’ve pretty much covered this in the above sections. There is a lot of simpering moments that seem completely out of character (for both of them).
I mean… it didn’t make me mad…as such.
Just a little bit disappointed.
But I guess that just shows how much I love Ismae when she was brilliant.

Sadness Scale.
8/10. But I’m not saying anything else in case of spoilery badtimes.

Recommended For.
People who like historical and fantasy fiction. People who are looking for a series that isn’t (overly) paranormal and dystopian but still awesome. People who are proud of their scars. People who wish they could have had a thin wire hidden in their bracelet. People who think more men should wear armour and joust. People who need lessons in ‘womanly arts’. People who would like a sassypants crow to deliver their messages for them. People who think religion needs more gadgets. People who would like to learn how to gavotte. People who only know there’s only one way to check for poison thoroughly…. GET YER KIT OFF, SONNY JIM.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publishers.

You can read this review and lots of other exciting things on my blog
Profile Image for Anzû.
548 reviews1,108 followers
May 24, 2013

Ugh I couldn’t finish this. I tried and tried so far but eventually the inevitable happened.

I may be harsh (I don’t consider myself harsh), I may be an asshole (I don’t consider myself an asshole), I may be a hater (I’m totally a hater) but I DNF’d the bitch! And it felt so damn good!

I was fair though. I gave it a 100-page trial, stuck to it like the good little girl I am and couldn’t even handle it. And to think page 100 was like 35% or something inside the book. 35%!!! Imagine how much left until it was done. I’d have to chew off my own fingers in order to bear with it.

Why did I hate it? I have two big-assed reasons. One, it’s shit boring. Two, it’s an Assassin’s Creed rip-off. And a really bad and boring (did I mention boring?) one. Now let me expand my hatred a bit.

My relationship with historical books is amazing. Yep. So amazing that I tend to spill acid on them each time I play mad scientist dress-up. And that’s a lot considering the pile of ruined books lying in the corner of my room.

Then why choose a historical book in the first place? Easy, because I thought it’s Young Adult.

Yep. I fell straight into the trap. It was the fucking cover. Does that look like a Historical Romance to you? And I presume it’s Historical Romance since some people on Goodreads added it to the Young Adult shelf. Thank you guys, you rock. But back to my covers. Just look at it. Does this resemble any of the following?

I thought so. I look at the Grave Mercy cover and I see Young Adult. I read the Grave Mercy ebook and I see bullshit.
The silence feels thick and awkward to me, but any attempt to make small talk seems equally so. Wondering if he feels it too, I sneak a glance in his direction and am appalled to find him watching me. We both wrench our eyes away, and even though I am no longer looking at him, every part of me is aware of his proximity, of the faint heat coming off his body in the damp autumn air, of the scent-

This woman is killing me. How can she be so lifeless?? She’s skipping the best parts. Does it have action? Throw it to the pigs. Is it boring? Put it in the damn book. Make it more difficult for Anzu to finish the damn thing. But of course Anzu is an idiot and will try her best to read it. Ugh!

When I look a title like His Fair Assassin I think of - hold on to your seats folks, I’m sure you weren’t expecting this - assassins. A huge surprise there, is it not? So as I was saying, before I rudely interrupted myself, assassins. An assassin is a wicked cool person with amazing murder, stealth and weapon skills who uses them in order to remove certain obstacles that get in the way of their happiness. A book about assassins is supposed to be murder/action/stealth/blood/brains filled. At least in my opinion. It was logical that I would expect this from title. Why it was filled with boring details and lacked action? I have no clue.

Which reminds me. Did you guys play the Assassin’s Creed games? Read the books? Am I the only one who smells the theft of many elements from the game?

First the Reverend Mother who is a female version of Al Mualim, the covenant is the creed, Ismae is Altaïr. In Assassin’s Creed they get their next target’s name through carrier pigeons, in Grave mercy they use a blind lady who reads it in chicken bones and feathers.
The Tears of Mortain have done their job well, for I am certain there is no spark of life burning behind that door.

Eagle vision much? What the hell??

At least if it was cool I wouldn’t mind it, but they are running the story. You don’t ruin the Assassin’s Creed story and get to live.

Ugh I so much wish the cover had a shirtless dude on it!! Then I wouldn’t have been tempted to read it.
Profile Image for Maggie ☘.
534 reviews653 followers
July 10, 2022
*4,75/5 stars*

“When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.”

Grave Mercy was such a lovely surprise! It is surely one of the most memorable Historical Fiction YA books with fantasy elements there is. I cannot recommend this series highly enough!


Ismae is not your typical young adult heroine. She lived her whole live under care of her brutal father, and if not for the convent of St. Mortain, she would live the rest of her life with abusive husband. Based on her experiences, Ismae think that every men is the same and for that gladly joins the convent to be Death's handmaiden and serve His will. It is surely a batter future than the one she was supposed to have.

Ismae is simply amazing. She has strong opinions and is more than capable of taking care of herself. She is an assassin.

There are also some very interesting secondary characters: -> “Good intentions are only lies the weak tell themselves. I will not be caged.” -Sybella


“It is this kindness of his that unsettles me most. I can dodge a blow or block a knife. I am impervious to poison and know a dozen ways to escape a chokehold or garrote wire. But kindness? I do not know how to defend against that.”

I was little bit sad that the actual assassin training wasn't quite shown. Ismae's life with the nuns was shortly described and I was hoping to see more of the actual poison and combat training.

Nevertheless, the beginning was very imersive and gripping. After training, Ismae gets her first assignment, which she manages with ease and no questions. But her third task is much harder then even the abbess anticipated.

Ismae gets herself in the mids of intrigues and political machinations right at the court of Brittany. She starts to question everyone around her and soon finds out that maybe, the only person whom she can truly trust, is the one she wasn't supposed to. The one convent sent her to spy on, Duval.


“I have no better plan, my lord. In truth, I am sorely disappointed in my god’s justice so far.”
Duval stares at me a long moment, his eyes bright as if with fever. “Perhaps that is because you mistake death for justice, and they are not the same thing at all.”

The middle of this book was a little bit stretched. I'm not going to lie, it is not always fast paced, but rather slowly revealing, intriguing and mystrious story with lots of spying at court. You can't be sure whom to trust. The prose is also worth mentioning, as it was absolutely beautiful and well suited the story.

AND I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. Grave Mercy has the right amount of romance - Ismae's relationship with Duval is swoon worthy and amusing from the beginning - blended with political intrigue, court life, poisons and killing.


If you enjoy stories set in the past, gorgeous prose and interestingly balanced romance, politics and kickass-ness, as well as if you're interested in reading about Assassin Nuns (I'm sure everyone is a bit interested in that! I sure was and am not in the least disappointed), then Grave Mercy is meant right for you.

“The body on the ground is nothing more than a shell, a husk, and I am filled with a sense of peace. Yes, I think. Yes. This is what I want to be. An instrument of mercy, not vengeance.”
Profile Image for Kat Kennedy.
475 reviews16.2k followers
April 6, 2012
Grave Mercy is the improbable tale of an assassin-y murder-nun, Ismae, on a mission to rescue the Duchess of Brittany from a fate worse than death – a really disgusting old, pervert man. She’s joined along the way by a studly lord-type person, Duval, in order to defeat evil (the French), crown the Duchess, and get laid.
So on the positive side there’s court intrigue, crossbows, britches untied and skirts hitching and all those kinds of shenangians. And given those facts, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is your average bodice ripper with all it’s stripped-to-the-shift, sexy occupational hazards of the 16th century, man-rooty goodness (…or badness?)
But this is actually a YA novel, which makes it awkward because it actually reads far more like it should have this cover:

romance cover

Look, you can’t just clean up an historical romance, put it through the wash, cut out all the descriptive sex and relabel it YA. It doesn’t work like that. The result is an Historical Romance without any sex - and you’ve just removed the one reason why I WOULD read a Historical Romance.
They tried to do that with that Pirates porn movie. The director loved it so much he cut out the sex and rereleased it as a feature movie. But YOU STILL HAVE A PORN MOVIE! There’s just no three way pirate sex scenes to off-put the fake books, stilted dialogue, ridiculous non-sensical story-lines… actually, it sounds like I AM describing Pirates of the Carribean – so let’s just move on.

Pirates porn movie poster

The premise was very interesting and I think the idea was most noteworthy. There’s nothing much to complain about with LaFever’s writing and stylistic choices in that regard. But it’s the plot and the pacing that is its biggest let down.

Quite early in this novel we see the plot mostly dry up and the fantasy of a badass killer-nun seems to be unattainable as we’re left with a soggy romance that never feels quite convincing. Certainly, both characters are likable and work well together as a team. But the actual romance is never particularly breathtaking or impassioned. Which would be fine if the movie had more throat-cutting and less awkward moments where the two main characters almost kiss.

The mystery is laughably easy to deduce which, for me, just added to a rather average reading fare.
I recommend this book to those that like the idea of assassin-nuns without dealing with the mess and teenagers who want a gateway book to the historical romance genre.

Check out our joint review of this book on Cuddlebuggery
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,447 reviews7,542 followers
July 30, 2015
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

Upon starting Grave Mercy things were going swimmingly . . .

“You would not expect a queen to wash her own clothes or lace her own gown, she has handmaids for that. And so it is with us; we serve as handmaids to Death. When we are guided by His will, killing is a sacrament.”

My inner bunneh was all like . . .

Houston commercial photography

But then the MC was given the assignment that I thought would be the driving force throughout the book, only to find out what was really going to happen was not how I had imagined . . . .

“He blinks, ‘If you are not careful, I will begin to think you are enamored of me.’ At his words, something flutters happily in my breast, pleasure, perhaps.”

And I was all like . . .

Houston commercial photography

So here’s a chick who was raised with an abusive father who pawns her off to the highest bidder who OF COURSE couldn’t wait to smack the shit out of her as well – gets rescued from said abuser’s house before he has a chance to rape and beat her – is transported to a convent where she discovers she is TOTALLY kick-ass/immune to poison/has the ability to see the mark of death on a person/etc. – is trained to become an assassin – and then gets sent on an assignment only to become smitten with the dude who may actually end up being the bad guy . . .

Houston commercial photography

Talk about a real bait and switch. It was like going to pick up your brand new blue sports wagon and instead walking away with . . .

Houston commercial photography

Grave Mercy could be used as an exhibit of why YA books get a bad rap. For the love of Tom Cruise, why do authors assume young people are stupid? Talk about a story that was 100% predictable. I. SAW. EVERYTHING. COMING. From the bad guy to that stupid f*&^%g ending.

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If you’re looking for a story with a lot of stabby, run far far away. On the other hand, if you enjoy a novel that takes you in the wayback machine and deals with romance and intrigue in the Royal Court, you’ll be like the 95% of my Goodreads friends who thought this one was a big winner.
Profile Image for Sophia.
270 reviews2,036 followers
May 25, 2016
me halfway into this novel: wait. this isn't a fantasy?

this is historical fiction. mixed with fantasy. and it's pretty dang great. the main character is an actual assassin who actually kills her assignments (shade), but the plot is mainly about political intrigue, complicated alliances, and preserving a nation's independence. there's a really nice romantic lead, too!!
Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,607 reviews1,481 followers
May 3, 2021
Sale Alert 3May21 Kindle Deal $1.99

I read this a few years ago and really enjoyed the political intrigue and different heroine. This one is more Political while the next in the series has a lot more action. Still Assassin Nuns are always interesting.

Original Review:
This is an interesting YA novel as it is set in the 1400s so it is somewhat historical but at the same time fantasy. There is royal intrigue, plots, strange customs and dangerous women.

Ismae has been marked since birth. She is a daughter of death better known as Saint Mortain. Daughters of death it seems are beautiful and have some other worldly qualities to them. Ismae’s special talent is with poison she is immune to it in all forms. She is saved from an arranged marriage and sent to a convent for daughters of Mortain. There she is educated and trained to be a deadly assassin for Mortain’s bidding. After years in the convent the time had finally come be sent on her first assignment. She killed a man that might have repented his past transgressions and was trying to clear his name for Brittany (the country not the girl). To figure out who is plotting against Brittany she must set off to court with Gavriel Duval where she can use her gifts to assess who is plotting against Brittany and the Duchess Anne.

I liked that there were complex characters in this novel. No one was all good or all bad. Even our heroine is sorely misunderstood. She can tell when someone is about to die or sense them after they have died. Even she doesn’t understand the scope of her gifts. But she is feared as death is feared. Gavriel too is complex dutiful to the core but sometimes he goes against the norm for what he thinks is right even if it brands him a traitor to his sworn saint. The romance that eventually grows between them is sweet and takes its time to blossom. He sees Ismae for who and what she truly is and never tries to change her. I felt so bad for Anne, she has to marry to make an alliance to keep her kingdom that is on the brink of war but some of her suitors are treacherous and if wed she will surely die soon after so they can control her kingdom.

The story was so interesting and watching Ismae grow into a bold woman was fascinating. I loved how she came to better understand Mortain and the two sides of him better throughout the book to realize possibly that being an assassin was not all he wanted for his daughters. There were some great nail biting moments and honestly after the first 100 pages I just couldn’t put it down. Incredibly unique heroine.
Profile Image for Kayla Dawn.
291 reviews895 followers
January 22, 2020
This was a pretty basic but decent YA fantasy story.
Unfortunately a little too romance heavy for me but I liked the characters most of the time and I enjoyed the banter between Duval and Ismae.
I hope I'll get a little more world building in the sequel!
Profile Image for Arlene.
1,156 reviews641 followers
December 4, 2013
Five Solid Stars!

When I was reading Grave Mercy, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the life lessons I learned from the nuns I went to Catholic School with. Now keep in mind, they weren’t the skills Ismae was exposed to at Saint Mortmain's convent, so maybe I should start off with a brief comparison.

See, I was taught:
To walk like a bird, not like an elephant.
Keep my ankles and knees together when I sit.
My school tie is not to be used as a napkin.
Keep plenty of room for the Holy Spirit between me and my “male companion.” ~snickers~
Tear my bread with my hands and not my teeth.
God can read my thoughts so keep them pure.
My foul and sarcastic mouth will gain me no points in life. ~pbtfff~

If you’re wondering, the answer is an emphatic yes on both points. (1) Yes, each of those lessons were directed at me at some time or another. (2)Yes, I still read romantic bodice rippers while tucked under my covers at night. Come on! What did you expect? :P

Now Ismae, the main character of Grave Mercy, on the other hand seemed to have gotten a more well rounded and useful life training in my opinion.

She learned from the Saint Mortmain nuns:
Stealth and cunning knife combat to bring down a man with a marque of Death.
Feminine artistry to lure her victims into a false sense of security.
The chemistry of poison making that could kill a man a hundred different ways.
Defense moves to escape a chokehold or garrote.

If those were the lessons being taught by the nuns I grew up with, I'd like to believe I would not have been such a disappointment.

I have to say that prior to starting Grave Mercy I was skeptical about whether I would be able to keep my beliefs and deep seeded convictions about religion and faith enough at bay to enjoy this story. Surprisingly (or maybe not) it wasn’t an issue for me at all. I enjoyed the political backdrop, the killer nuns, the historical time period, the constant intrigue and yes you heard me right... killer nuns. For me, it all blended perfectly to make Grave Mercy a fantastical story.

In this book, Ismae escapes the cruelty to her father and the man she is wedded to, and is taken away one night after a brutal beating to Saint Mortmain’s convent. There, she learns the skills to keep her safe from ever being hurt by a man again. After several years of combat training, she has been molded into a perfect assassin and is thrust into the political battle between three countries that fight for power and land, where she must carry out the orders of her convent. However, when the desires of her convent collide with the path of her heart, Ismae is forced to make a choice between executing a command from her convent and doing what she believes in her heart is right.

Ismae and Duval were a perfect pair of protags, and their story was filled with enough struggle and romantic tension to keep me glued to the eInk on my reader. I loved how their relationship developed at a slow and deliberate pace. It made their love for one another believable and perfect.

Like I said… FANTASTICAL. It’s books such as Grave Mercy that prove to me time and again that fantasy, when done right, is at the top of my favorite genre list. I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel in this story line as I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Sybella. Awesome read!
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,890 followers
April 5, 2012
What a pleasant surprise this was! Grave Mercy won me over in chapter one and I was unable to put down Ferguson, my Kindle, until I finished it. I always have troubles getting through the middle part of a book, but that was not the case here at all. I stayed up very late to finish it and I didn’t regret it for a second.

After being abused for her entire life by her vicious father and then married off at fourteen to an equally vicious husband, Ismae is saved by a hedge priest on her wedding night and taken to a convent where she is told that she is a daughter of Mortain, the god of death. She is to be trained to carry out Mortain’s will and kill those he has placed his mark upon.
Ismae is reborn in the convent, determined to make the absolute best of the second chance life has given her. She is a good and dedicated student. But when the abbess orders her to go to duchess’ court and do her best to protect her, Ismae is not very comfortable with her orders. At 17, she is highly trained in every skill she might need and she has no trouble killing any traitor the convent tells her to, but the only way to get access to everyone important is by posing as Duval’s mistress, and that is very unsettling. Duval seems to be loyal to the duchess, he is her half-brother after all, but Ismae is under orders to investigate him. It doesn’t matter that she finds him attractive, slightly infuriating, but most of all trustworthy. Mortain’s will always come first.

What can be more fun than nuns who turned You shall not murder into You shall murder only those we order you to and You shall not commit adultery into You shall seduce for information, but not for love? Everyone, including myself, was thrilled by the idea of killer nuns, but that part proved to be just a little bit disappointing because these nuns had very little in common with actual nuns. I expected more conflict between their religion and their actions, but LaFevers chose another direction altogether.

I really admired Ismae. Getting to know her was my favorite part of this book. I liked her spirit and her intelligence, and I felt that her actions were pretty consistent, a sure sign of a well-built character. It didn’t take long for her to abandon the victim mentality and accept that she’s the one with the power, and that she earned that power by working hard for three whole years.

While I had a lot of fun reading it, Grave Mercy was by no means perfect. People with little patience for political intrigue will probably find themselves bored from time to time, especially around the middle. There is also the small issue of predictability: I knew who the traitor was about ten seconds after he showed up and it left me disappointed because I loved everything else so much.
Aside from that, I really wish Duval’s poisoning was handled differently. (I have to be extremely vague here lest I spoil things for some poor, unsuspecting reader, but those of you who have read the book will know exactly what I’m talking about.) I don’t mind what happened at all, I wish there was more of it, but the way it happened, under those circumstances, felt a little like a cop out to me. It’s like the action needed to be justified by a life or death situation, which I thought didn’t fit well with the overall tone of the book.

Grave Mercy was much more fun than I expected it to be. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,465 reviews9,621 followers
October 19, 2015

One Word:


I freaking loved this book and I am buying it for damn sure!

This is a long drawn out book and I wasn't bored not one time...NOT ONE TIME!!!


Ismae's mom tried to rid her in the womb with poison from a herbwitch and all of this did was give her a scar and make her a daughter of St. Mortain..the god of death!

When she is older her dad sells her to a horrible man who was trying to make her do her wifely duties, but once he saw her scar, he was terrified. Everyone that knew who she was, was terrified of her.

The abess of St. Mortain Convent brings Ismae into the fold and trains her as an assassin for death. She is trained in poisons and weaponry. I love it! I freaking love it! Sorry, I digressed!


The misericorde is only one of her weapons of choice, she uses a garotte in her bracelet, crossbows, knives, you name it. She is bad to the bone!

She is sent out on missions to kill people that have the marque of Mortain on them, this is like the go ahead to kill them, they are evil. She is allowed to kill in self defense as well.

She is sent on a mission with Gavriel Duval to help protect his sister, who is Duchess Anne. They find they are up against a lot of traitors, and bad people all around. I mean, it seems like you can't trust but a few in this book!

Ismae isn't interested in men, she thinks they are vile creatures. But.. she was abused by mean all of her life.. sooooooo.. Anyhoo, she starts to have feelings for Duval and I think it is so awesome. They are actually perfect for each other in their bad assery!


I can't stress how much I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Plots, schemes, weapons, killings, etc. If you like all of that stuff, I think you will like this book :)

Profile Image for Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘.
839 reviews3,760 followers
February 15, 2021

Book 2 : Dark Triumph ✮✮✮✮✮

۩ This is the kind of book you eat and forget most of the details just after reaching the last page, because if there's a new event at each chapter, you quit on the feeling that nothing happened. Actually if Grave Mercy is by no means a bad book, I wasn't impressed either. What surprises me the most is how an original concept as Assassin nuns can lead me to feel slightly underwhelmed.

I guess that expectations are everything.

"So," she says, looking back up at me. "You are well equipped for our service."
"Which is?"
"We kill people."

My biggest fear before starting it? To be bored to death. And yet, strangely, the biggest - only one? - compliment I can offer it is the fact it was so compulsively readable. Weird right?

► First of all, how can we not be interested in the original concept on which Grave Mercy relies?

Undeniably, what could be more fascinating than the discovery of the daughters of Death, more known as St Mortain's nouns, whose purpose is to learn an incredible amount of ways to be a deadly assassin? Tell me? Therefore I wasn't bored, but interested, hooked, even - political calculations always draw me in, and I must confess that the settings immensely pleased me. As a great fan of Dumas, I always had a soft spot for intrigues taking place at Court, especially when the Kings aren't the most famous (please stop talking about Louis XIV and Henri IV, not to mention Louis XVI). Indeed there're so many periods which have not yet been explored by the literature!

However, I'm sorry, but what was this obvious twist? For real, I was waiting and waiting and waiting for the characters to get to the same conclusion as me and Oh. My. They took their time for sure. As a result, I can't say that the mystery was compelling. Indeed while the writing, the details of the political complots enthralled me, I didn't care much about the big revelation of the villains' identity, for it was pretty obvious since the beginning.

Moreover, I couldn't help but notice the lack of accuracy in the historical facts - I don't know if that's supposed to be accurate, but in case you're wondering, that's not. Oh, yes, the big events are "true", but except from them, every character is pictured in a wrong way. Take Alain d'Albret, for example. Yes he was betrothed to Anne de Bretagne, but he never had 6 wifes (only one, actually). As for Fedrik de Nemours... he didn't exist. And so on. To be fair, even Dumas was known for romanticizing grandly his characters, so I'm not sure that it can be considered as a flaw. I thought I'd point it, anyway, because I'm an History nerd (sorry about that). Finally, why in the world are they travelling via Quimper when they intend to go to Guérande? Seriously, lost enough, aren't you?

Okay, I'm annoying. I stop here. Sigh.

✐ Generally speaking, I quite liked the writing, which was pleasant and flowed smoothly. But then, I must point that I have not the sufficient knowledge to judge if the way the characters speak can be considered as accurate for 1400s (I have to admit that I have many doubts, because it appeared rather modern to me). Now, what I can judge are the mistakes when French language is used. Of course it was rare - Thanks Mortain! - but come on, don't you think that it would be greatly appreciated if, I don't know, some French speaker checked before publishing? There are grammar mistakes ("entré" instead of "entrez") and a weird use of interjections ("mais bon", in that sentence, doesn't make any sense. At all.) One might argue that I make grammar mistakes in English as well, and it's true (sorry about that). But the fact is, I'm not publishing a book, but writing a review.

But let's talk about the characters, shall we?

Ismae, who has a special talent for poison, is sent on an assignment in the Guérande court. Her mission? To protect the Duchess, Anne de Bretagne, while unraveling the layers of treason the young ruler faces. In a word : Ismae must use her talent to figure out who is plotting against the duchess, including her closest support, Gavriel Duval. Well, I haven't much to reproach her, to be fair. Indeed I could understand her decisions, and contrary to some (many?) readers I didn't feel like she gave up her mind for the sake of her love for Duval. On the contrary, she thinks before acting, and if she IS long to realize some facts (DUH), I can't say that she's blinded by love, as she wonders why and who and how is right all the freaking time. She didn't trust Gavriel on sight for Mortain's sake! Yet... I didn't care so much about her either. In my opinion her monologues lacked of sincerity and believability, as I often found myself wondering... Who thinks like that? Every thought is too neat, and I never really felt her struggle, question - I was told so, but never get the feeling, you know?

Gavriel, now. He is nice, kind, but has the bad habit to order Ismae around. Yet he is nice. And, you know, he is ... he IS ...

Well, okay, mostly dull.

♥ That's why even if the romance didn't bother me, it never made me swoon either, as I never really saw any chemistry between Ismae and Duval. As the rest of the story, everything felt too mild to me, and no, my heart never missed a beat. Lack of strong feelings indeed.

▧ The so-called villains. Yes, so-called, because we are told that they are the villains in this story, but never really shown, or not enough, in my opinion. Take d'Albret, for example. Oh, yes, he seems really disgusting, but what does he really do? Nothing. To me, the only real villains are Ismae's father and her previous husband.

▧ What bothered me the most was the lack of involvement of the secondary characters. Indeed even if they exist, except for the beginning, the other characters fall into the background pretty fast, unfortunately. Personally, I'm eager to learn more about Beast (how awesome is that name, by the way?) and Sybella - Annith I don't care about.

See, when I weigh the pros and cons....

... It's pretty obvious that the cons overtake the pros by far. Now, as I did enjoy my reading still, I decided for a three that I can't help but find quite generous.

For more of my reviews, please visit:
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
November 28, 2018
Update 11/27/18

So, this one is a double DNF I guess. When I saw Kirkus give a starred review to the 4th book in this world and make it sounds so enticing, with all the court intrigue and assassinating, I got super excited and thought maybe this would be the case when I try an old DNF and love it and have a whole new set of fantasy books to gush over and look forward to. But NO, "Grave Mercy" is still too shallow and pedestrian for my taste. Absolutely love the premise, which reminds me a bit of "The Cruel Prince." But "The Cruel Prince" was so dynamic and ship-ful, and "Grave Mercy" is dull and write-by-numbers. Sad.

I do think that those people who missed reading these books 5 years ago and are into Maas and lite fantasy/romance, should give this series a go.

Original review

I don't know, for a book that received so many starred reviews it is oddly superficial and immature. Maybe too much of a romance? Not interested in finishing.
Profile Image for Lea (drumsofautumn).
619 reviews627 followers
September 17, 2019
Definitely 4.5 stars! I WANT TO give this 5 stars but I feel like the sequels are gonna be EVEN BETTER, so I wanna leave some space for that!

“It is this kindness of his that unsettles me most. I can dodge a blow or block a knife. I am impervious to poison and know a dozen ways to escape a chokehold or garrotte wire. But kindness? I do not know how to defend against that.”

Now I absolutely cannot believe that it took me four years to get to this book. As soon as I heard this book exists, I was sure I would love it but somehow only bought it earlier this year when I spotted it in a bookstore in England. People kept recommending it to me and said I would surely enjoy it based on some of my other favourites. While I knew they were right all along – it still took me this long. Now that I have read it I can for sure say that this just hit the vein of Historical Fantasy that I fucking love.
Now this definitely falls more into the Historical Fiction genre for me but the Fantasy or rather Paranormal elements were ones I really enjoyed and what made this novel special to me. It had to be one of my favourite aspects of the story.

I absolutely loved the character development. I had a little bit of a hard time getting used to the main character, Ismae. You can already tell that she grows into a fierce, strong character but at beginning she was a little bit unbearable at times. But this quickly changed for me and I really enjoyed reading from her perspectives and the things she went through.
In general I started to care so much for all of the characters. So many of the side characters are absolutely lovable and I found myself tearing up because of some of their storylines.

I also really couldn't do this review without talking about the romance because I FUCKING LOVED IT. I was honestly so surprised how fast I was invested in this romance, I honestly didn't expect it. I thought this would just be super tropey and annoying and destroy the whole rest of the novel for me but it was the exact same opposite. I thought the romance was so well done and really nicely fit into the rest of this book.
I know some people find the way Ismae reacts to especially Duval's touch unbelievable and annoying but I actually really liked the way this was build up and developed. In the beginning she feels uncomfortable but does realize something is different after a while. She's not instantly IN LOVE but does start questioning her feelings quickly. I personally thought the development was valid and believable but obviously that is very subjective. I thought given Ismae's past, her behaviour and thoughts made a lot of sense.
I think even if you don't really like romance, it should be very bearable. It is not a small part but there is enough other stuff to enjoy.

I also thought the pacing and overall storytelling was very well done. There was a great mix between action, political conflict and intrigue and the build up of the romance. I was never bored and actually got through this super fast, which hasn't happened to me in a while for such a long book. I just simply never wanted to put it down.

Now I gotta say this did have some questionable elements to it but I have to be honest.. I was kinda expecting them going into this book. Knowing this was published in 2012, I knew for sure it couldn't really keep up with most of today's Fantasy or Historical Fiction that I read. But I gotta be honest here and say that I was ready to overlook that, simply because I have been wanting to read this for such a long time.
A big part of this story is that the assassins lure the men in with their womanly charms. There is a TON of attempted rape and so many vile men in this story, that I found myself shivering several times. Definitely go into this with a huge trigger warning.

Thank fuck for everyone who has reminded me of how much I would like this over the years. I think the comparison to the Graceling Realm series fits perfectly. Lots of elements I enjoyed in particular about Fire and Bitterblue were prominent in Grave Mercy.
I'm so excited to go into the next book now. I really love that every book has a different point of view. While the overall story of this is definitely not over, the most important parts of Ismae's story are told. Knowing that we will follow the overall story but from different POVs by other interesting characters sounds super promising.

I know this book and series is not on many people's radars anymore but I'd highly recommend it. LOOKING FOR YA WITH ACTUAL LIKEABLE ASSASSINS WHO ACTUALLY KILL PEOPLE? LOOK NO FUCKING FURTHER!

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Profile Image for Natalie Monroe.
592 reviews3,539 followers
January 31, 2017
"I am a handmaiden of Death. I walk in His dark shadow and do His bidding. Serving Him is my only purpose in this life, and I have let my annoyance drive that duty from my mind. I will not let that happen again."

Like Truthwitch, Grave Mercy is a book I should have loved. It's got an interesting historical background and assassin nuns.

Assassin. Nuns. I'll just let that sink in.

Unfortunately, the premise doesn't hold up. The beginning is the best part. We open with Ismae being married against her will to a much older man. The convent rescues her and she's subjected to a poison test before discovering she has the ability to be a handmaiden of Mortain, god of Death.

Then we go through a time-skip and everything goes downhill.

I don't mind that we skip the training, but the plot just drags and drags. Half the time I'm not sure what's going on. Part of it is on me; I put it down in December and didn't pick it back up until three weeks later. But what I can suss out—war is imminent, but the Duchess doesn't want an alliance marriage—isn't written in an engaging manner.

Now, I love court politics. Game of Thrones is one of all-time favorite series. Grave Mercy lacks that spark that holds a reader's interest while secondary characters mill about and talk and scheme. (A few jokes now and then wouldn't hurt.) Ismae wanders around, looking for the marque that signifies divine order to kill, and slowly falls in love with Duval. It's less interesting when that one sentence stretches into 300+ pages.

But it could just be me. The writing's fine, the romance is nice and believable, and the characters are okay.

That's it, really. It's okay.
Profile Image for Kezia Duah.
377 reviews308 followers
October 30, 2021
This book had so much potential to be really good, but I don’t know. It was just lacking some oomph. I will definitely be reading the next book.
Profile Image for Rachel  L.
1,827 reviews2,186 followers
September 3, 2015
“When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.”

Battered and abused for the majority of her life, Ismae is saved right after her wedding ceremony from a disgusting man and sent to a convent of Mortain's, the God of Death. There, she is schooled in the art of being an assassin and dedicated to carry out his work. For 3-4 years she is trained in many different ways to kill a man, and when she becomes 17 she is sent on her first assignment. Fairly soon Ismae is wrapped up in a mission to help the Duchess of Brittany, and forced to work with a man named Duval, who also does not want Ismae's help.

“Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?”

I've read and heard many mixed reviews on this book since it's publication, so I didn't know what to expect going in. I really liked this book, but it fell short of that something special that would make me love it.

Ismae is a very compelling character, if a bit ill-prepared for the assignment she was given. Duval was interesting as well, but I never really felt as if the reader really got to know him. The relationship between him and Ismae could technically be filed under slow-build, but it felt forced to me. I wish more time had been spent building their relationship because it very much felt like it went from "I can't trust you" to "We will do our best to be together in the future" in a matter of 50 pages or so. The aboutface was too quick for my tastes.

“It is this kindness of his that unsettles me most. I can dodge a blow or block a knife. I am impervious to poison and know a dozen ways to escape a chokehold or garrote wire. But kindness? I do not know how to defend against that.”

I'm also not a giant fan of political plots in my fantasy/science fiction novels and this book was primarily that. It was done very well, but I grew a bit tiresome of it by the end of the book.

^^^Despite all of these issues I listed above, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, I felt it was a very fresh idea in the young adult genre. The book also promoted important aspects such as to think for yourself, second chances, and first impressions are not always correct. All very important themes for a ya novel.

I am very excited to read Sybella's book next, I feel like she would be an incredibly interesting character.

Profile Image for Norah Una Sumner.
851 reviews447 followers
January 3, 2016
3,5 stars


Such an interesting read.I love the story and the main character.Seems like a start to a great trilogy.I enjoyed reading about Ismae's adventures and I love how she developed as a character.There's action,there's a bit of slow-burning romance which I definitely liked,there's a lot of scheming and there are many interesting historical facts.The supporting characters are very interesting - Duval,the Duchess,Sybella etc.Yes,the writing and the world-building aren't perfect but I really connected with these characters and I had a great time reading about them.Plus,the story really is unique and captivating. The Duchess seriously needs the Lord's help,though,she's in a difficult position. A really good book with a lot of potential.
Profile Image for Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker.
596 reviews371 followers
March 11, 2012
This book was outstanding. You have all the fun elements- a young "kick-ass" female assassin gifted by the God of Death, a potential love interest, court politics, revenge, mistrust, and so on.

In addition, you have a beautiful tale of a girl’s personal growth. Watching Ismae go from a naive young girl, who blindly follows, to a smart thinking young woman, was the best part of the book.


I was going to write more for this review but I am going to just roll with what I wrote originally right after I read the book. I loved this book. While not the prettiest of reviews, it gets the point across!
Profile Image for Gail Carriger.
Author 58 books14.9k followers
March 26, 2015
The series premise: three girls from different backgrounds are deemed daughters of death and taken in to a mysterious convent where they are trained as assassins, called death's handmaidens. Each is then sent from the convent into the politics of late 1400s Brittany where they find self confidence through love, purpose, and place in society.

The writing: rich period color, first person perspective, strong voice, some graphic violence, modest sex scenes, excellent heroic counterparts, complex politics. Close accepting friendship between girls and women, betrayal by adult role models.

Grave Mercy is about Ismae, an abused peasant girl, for whom a convent is salvation and her devotion to her god, Death, a redemption and a means to self actualization. Her journey is one of faith ~ learning to define faith for herself, to find faith in others, and to have faith in her own abilities and in love.

Ismae is sent into the high politics of the time to unearth betrayal, learning along the way what she must question and who she must become. She is learning about herself as she learns about her world, and what kind of place and path is open to her.

“Is that what my life has been? A series of trials to be passed?”
“You come to us well tempered, my child, and it is not in my nature to be sorry for it.
It is the well-tempered blade that is the strongest.”

Ismae is a gentle almost sweet character, a fish out of water in the best sense, despite her deadly abilities. The romance that develops between her and the man she is supposed to watch is part of her own journey learning to trust not just men but herself: in her heart, in her abilities, and in her judgement.

I adored this book. So much so that I entirely forgave it some initial world building and historical exposition. This was front loaded, once through the beginning chapters (to Ismae's first kill and the introduction of the hero) the pace picks up considerably. I wanted more of the assassin training, because I like the school aspect of most books (well, duh, I wrote a whole series about this) but I can understand why it wasn't there (or was cut out). I enjoyed the journey and the characters (even though I didn't personally relate to them) but I liked them both much more as they are set into motion, on the road and into the city and politics. I thought some of the romance was a little much ~ salvation through sex has never been a trope I latch on to myself. However, I wonder if, LaFevers is playing parody with that trope in her connubial culmination, as Ismae literally saves Duval with her body.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Deborah Obida.
673 reviews602 followers
December 16, 2017
Buddy reading with Kelsey My Dec tbr twin

This is really going to be a short review, based on the fact that 3 stars review are just so hard for me to write most times and also I didn't enjoy this book even though it was okay.

As glad as I am that I enjoyed this book, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed. The book lacks action, in depth depictions of things that happened in the book,some things were just too rushed for my liking.

I love the politics and scheming in the book, even though I predicted most, I still enjoyed the scheming a lot.

The world building is average, it was just okay. The book is written in the first person point of view of Ismae the MC. Despite some of her cringing thoughts I still enjoyed her narration and the dialogues in the book.

The characters are a bit bland. Ismae and Duval was okay and the rest was more of a filler than an actual character. I expected more from Anne and the other nobles but got nothing.

The plot is no where near original but the author did a good job with the book.
Profile Image for Sara Rebotim.
23 reviews39 followers
June 29, 2019
This book was so easy writing and enjoyable to read and I can say I’m not a fan of slow books but I felt a connection with the characters, specially Ismae she’s strong and loyal ! The story was engaging from the beginning till the end
Definitely 4 starts!!! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Profile Image for Giselle.
1,057 reviews907 followers
April 5, 2016
An unsolicited Advanced Reader Copy was provided by the publisher for review. Quotes have been pulled from an ARC and may be subject to change.

Intrigue. Murder. Politics. What more could you want?

Ismae gets rescued by a priest from a future with an abusive husband. The two journey to the convent, and is trained by the church to do St. Mortain’s work. But most of all she’s an assassin who is marked by Death himself. She slowly gathers the trust and respect of her fellow mentors and is finally assigned on a mission.

I won’t say what that mission will be just because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but let me tell you this book was long, yet I couldn’t put it down. I’m not a historical fiction fan. Probably because I haven’t read a great book that’s kept me awake and entertained, until I read Grave Mercy.

Nun assassins trained in combat, and poisons, and seduction?? Now that’s a book that caught my interest!! This was a well written book. I enjoyed Ismae’s journey into the world of espionage, all set in the country of Brittany. There’s romance in this book, that’s enough to keep all romantics happy. At first it’s obvious they’re falling in love, but the readers know it, and the character doesn’t. Ismae is not your average female protagonist. She’s strong, stubborn and beautiful. And the way she hones her powers to take down a life, amazed me.

I enjoyed reading Grave Mercy! Assassin nuns and girls who are trained by Death itself?? Yes sign me up!
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