Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: Grave Mercy (LaFevers)

AUTHOR: Robin LaFevers
SERIES: His Fair Assassin, book 1
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 9780547628349
PAGES: 549
SOURCE: publisher's ARC from TLA conference
GENRE: historical fantasy
SUMMARY: Born with a large scar that marks her as a child of Death, Ismae has been kicked around and abused for most of her life. Her father has finally found a way to get rid of Ismae, marrying her off to the local pig farmer. But on their wedding day, Ismae is given a chance at a new life. She is called to serve Death as an assassin highly trained to "help people on their way." Ismae settles into her new life well, loving the chance to get back at the men who have hurt her all her life. But when she falls for one of her "assignments," things get much more complicated.

WHAT I LIKED: Grave Mercy is really easy to get into. Having never read anything by Robin LaFevers, I could tell right away that she has serious writing talent. I was sucked into Ismae's story immediately; her forced marriage to the local pig farmer (who truly is a pig himself) and subsequent near-rape really help the reader understand Ismae's burning hatred for men and why she has no qualms about being death's handmaiden. For about the first third of the story, I was riveted.

Unique! I had never heard of Anne of Brittany, and after I finished reading, I researched the characters. Many of them really existed, and Anne's marriage (and multiple betrothals) really was a political football back in the 1400s. I can see why LaFevers chose to write about Brittany at this time in history; who knew it was so interesting? LaFevers introduces an element of fantasy into the mix with Ismae serving Death and having special abilities; add in Ismae and Duval's romance, and you really have a recipe for something different and exciting.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I considered abandoning this book several times. I wanted to know what happened, and by the time I was really ready to abandon, I felt like I had invested so much time already that I needed to go ahead and finish it. By the end, Grave Mercy really never recaptured the magic of the first part of the book. The political intrigue in the last two-thirds of the book just got to be too much for me. I had a hard time keeping track of all the barons and lords and kings and dukes and courtiers and mistresses. Who is on who's side? Grave Mercy is long--549 pages--and would have been more interesting to me if some of the political plotting and explanation were cut down.

Also, why does Death worry so much about European politics? Why would St. Mortain care a lick about the duchess being crowned or whether France is allowed to invade Brittany? Over and over, Ismae and the nuns say that Mortain wants the duchess crowned. How do they know this? If they are correct, why would St. Mortain care? It bothered me.

I would have loved to see a section at the end about the historical events in the story. I read the publisher's ARC, so maybe the published edition includes that.

THE BOTTOM LINE: For me, this one is overlong and includes way too much political intrigue, but considering the high Goodreads rating right now, lots of readers disagree with me.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don't have it and won't get it. It is definitely HS--content aside, I don't think most of my students will even understand it.

READALIKES: Graceling (Cashore); Shadowland (Cabot)

  • Overall: 2/5
  • Creativity: 5/5
  • Characters: 3/5
  • Engrossing: 2/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Appeal to teens: 3/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 2/5

  • Language: none
  • Sexuality: medium-high; multiple references to women as sexual objects, several references to rape, lots of kissing, off-the-page intercourse
  • Violence: mild; for a book about an assassin, surprising few murders (none are gross or bloody)
  • Drugs/Alcohol: mild; poisoning is a method of murder; some characters drink at parties or are described as drunk

1 comment:

  1. I think the thing about this book is really that it is more historical fiction than mystery, romance or paranormal, although it does have aspects of all of those. It was very accurate in terms of what happened politically, but I agree that the length and some of the content makes this more of a high school age book than one for middle grades.


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