Book Review: Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers

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?

Release Date: April 3, 2012
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: NetGalley

Going off of the summary, I thought that Grave Mercy was going to be a very dark and violent book.  I don't like to read about Hell or the devil, and feared that a book about a convent of sisters serving Death would be very close to that.  But Death is not the devil, and this book was not about Hell at all.  Instead, it is about Ismae, and her evolution from a young girl who is woefully mistreated by her father and everyone in her village, to a dangerous assassin who fearlessly metes out St. Mortain's orders.

I liked Grave Mercy from the very first page, and liked it even more as the book progressed.  I really felt for Ismae, as she has never known love, kindness, or acceptance.  Her mother tried to kill Ismae while she was pregnant, and Ismae bears the scars of the poison her mother took, as well as the emotional scars of feeling unwanted and unloved.  Everyone in her village knows that Ismae is different, that she was sired by Death, and she is feared and teased mercilessly.  Eventually, Ismae's father arranges a marriage to be rid of her, but her new husband does not know Ismae's secret.  When he finds out, he nearly beats her to death, but she manages to escape, and is taken in by the nuns of St. Mortain.

But the convent of St. Mortain is not your typical convent: instead, these nuns serve as Death's handmaidens and are skilled assassins.  They act upon Death's orders, and kill those who have the mark of Death upon them.  Ismae trains for three years, and then she starts to receive assignments.  Her second assignment is to travel to the high court of the duchess of Brittany to help protect the duchess.  Ismae poses as a mistress to Gavriel Duval, and that's where the story really gets interesting.

I loved the historical aspect of this book. It really made the story so special for me.  I love historical fiction and have never read about Brittany before, so I found that aspect of it very interesting.  I also love reading about high court politics and intrigue, and Grave Mercy had that in spades.  Grave Mercy reminded me a lot of Philippa Gregory's writing, in the best of ways.  I loved the huge cast of characters, which kept my mind engaged and kept the story challenging.

I also loved that while this is a series, it looks like each book will feature one sister from the convent.  So, it appears that Ismae's story is complete, and we will next read about Sybella (based on the teaser for book two that was included at the end of my ARC).  I love it when series are set up like that---you get closure with each book but still get to see your favorite characters living out their happily ever afters in subsequent books.

Overall, I loved Grave Mercy.  I see that Robin LaFevers has written quite a few other books, and will definitely be reading more from her.  This book had it all: a unique paranormal aspect, romance, an intricately detailed plot, and best of all, a strong female main character.  Awesome read!



  1. That sounds like a really good book. I need to look it up :)

  2. Wow. Amazing review! It's funny how you can gain a certain perception on a book based on its synopsis and find out that what ideas you'd conceived previously were completely different. Glad you loved it anyway! I don't think the idea of assassin nuns can be topped. Seriously.

  3. This reminded me a lot of Gregory's books too. I loved it. It was one of my favs of the year. A must for anyone who likes romance and historical fiction.

  4. Thanks for your review! My 12-year-old high-level reader got this for summer reading, and I feel a little better about it now.

  5. I brought this one home from school before spring break and I still need to read it! It sounds really good, but I do have to admit that the size intimidates me! I will have to get to it soon!

  6. This the first book I've read of this author's, and I've gotta say, AWESOME! The story is so unique. The characters are alluring. And the storyline is fabulous. I definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy a lil history mingled with fantasy and the supernatural. Great read!! Can't wait to purchase book 2!

  7. I have already begged friends to read this story and I will continue to read the series. I only wish I had something just as good to read in the interim.

  8. Robin LaFevers is definitely a new favorite author for me. I want book two, Dark Radiance immediately! Apparently, it's going to be about Sybella, rather than continuing Ismae's story. Although I love Ismae, I think I approve of the decision to move to a different character. I wonder if we'll get Annith's story in book three. I hope so!

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