Friday, March 16, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LeFevers (His Fair Assassin book one)

“Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?”
Brittany 1485

“I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I have been sired by the god of death himself."

Ismae Rienne wasn’t wanted even before she was born. Her mother’s efforts were for naught and Ismae’s life has been anything but pleasant. When her husband-to-be Guillo pays her father three silver coins, she briefly believes that her life may get better. After being married by a hedge priest in Guillo’s cottage, Ismae quickly realizes she has gone from the cruelty of her father to the rage of her new husband when he sees her scar. Beaten and thrown into a root cellar, the hedge priest comes back for her and takes Ismae on a journey. They eventually take a small boat to a remote island where a convent is located.

The convent is dedicated to Saint Mortain; one of the old gods who predates Christ, the patron saint of death. Ismae meets with the reverend mother and unknowingly passes the test given to her. Ismae is immune to the effects of poison. The reverend mother goes on to tell her the mission of those at the convent. It is the “nuns’ job to train those sired by the god of death. We teach them to perform their duties quickly and efficiently. Usually, we find that He has given His daughters some special skill or art. Abilities that will aid you as you carry out His work.” Ismae counters with the fact she would be committing murder, but the reverend mother states that they are the hand maidens to Death and only carry out his will. If she chooses to join, Ismae will be trained in Mortain’s arts of killing stealthily so that no man will ever be a threat to her again. Thinking of her father, Guillo and the other men and boys of her village, Ismae is intrigued until the reverend mother tells her not all of her victims will be like Guillo. She continues by saying, “He will ask for sacrifices, but it is not your role to question. Only to serve with love and obedience.” When asked if Ismae agrees, she asks what will become of her life if she says no. The reverend mother states that they will find her a kind and gentle man in need of a wife. Ismae has two options; to leave the world of men behind and train to kill them or “be handed to one like a sheep.” Ismae chooses a life dedicated to Saint Mortain.

And so Ismae begins her new life of servitude to Saint Mortain. Her training includes physical defense, ways to effectively kill a man and the arts of womanhood as well as working with Sister Serafina to learn how to make the poisons needed at the convent. Ismae’s training takes place over three years before she is sent on her first mission. She is successful in poisoning the man marked by Mortain but does run into a bit of trouble when a tavern patron strikes up a conversation and follows her upstairs. To Ismae’s horror, he seemed a bit suspicious of her, but she escapes undetected back to the convent. She is immediately sent out on a second mission. The reverend mother is sending her with Chancellor Crunard to stop another man believed to be leaking information about the duchess of Brittany to the French government. Once again successful in her mission, Ismae almost escapes but another man enters the room. He begins to question her and seems suspicious. She eventually escapes him without blowing her cover.

The next morning, Ismae is debriefing with Crunard and the reverend mother when a man bursts into the office. Ismae is shocked to see that the man from the night before is in front of her. Gavriel Duval, a member of the nobility, wants to know why Ismae keeps killing the men he is trying to get information from concerning France. Feigning interest in cooperation with the convent, Duval soon finds himself tricked into working with Ismae by the reverend mother. Neither Duval or Crunard and the reverend mother trust one another’s motives. For her final assignment before swearing allegiance, Ismae will go to the high court of Brittany and pose as Duval’s mistress to find out what she can about France’s plans for Brittany but also what exactly Duval is up to.

At the high court, Ismae finds herself woefully underprepared for the task at hand. Soon caught up in the palace intrigue, Ismae doesn’t know who to trust. When she begins to question not only her orders but all she has learned at the convent, Ismae needs to make some heart wrenching decisions. Who is loyal to the young duchess of Brittany and has nothing but the best intentions for her? What happens when Ismae’s heart begins to rule her judgment? Will she be able to trust herself to do the right thing?

Grave Mercy is an absolutely fantastic start to a great fantasy trilogy that will delight fans of Kristen Cashore, Cinda Williams Chima and Rae Carson.

The next installment of the trilogy, Dark Triumph, will be published in 2013.

Visit Robin LaFavers’ website.

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