Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review 2011 #6 - Robin LaFevers' Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy, His Fair Assassin Book 1 by Robin LaFevers
ARC Provided by the author
Published by: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 644 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Ismae almost died before she was born. Her mother tried to purge her from her body because she knew that Death was Ismae's father. All her life she has been marked by death with a dark wine stain from her shoulder to her hip. On the day of her marriage to a man she neither loves nor likes, he learns the truth and attempts to kill her. The herbwitch that tried to end her in the womb now rescues her and sends her to the convent of St. Mortain. There Ismae learns that she is cursed, but with gifts from Death himself. Trained to be a handmaiden to Death she learns all the subtle arts from poisons to seduction, though she's not too keen on the womanly arts. She becomes a finely skilled tool, an assassin for Death himself. Her first two assignments go rather well and the men are sent to their graves. The deaths of these two men though are inopportune for Brittany's government who is trying to stay an independent Duchy from France. As atonement for the inconvenience the convent has wrought the Duchy's young ruler, Anne, and her bastard brother, Gavriel Duval, Ismae is to accompany Gavriel to court and aid the country, while also serving the sometimes conflicting needs of the convent.

While at court, Gavriel is worried that he has been saddled with a loose cannon. Ismae seems no need to confide in Gavriel, or ask his permission, and seems willing to kill whomever Death has marked, whether it's convenient to Gavriel or not. Ismae though is in a world where, through Gavriel, she is starting to wonder if the convent has things quite right. She has spent the last few years cloistered away from the world and is now questioning the convents teachings. Embroiled in affairs of the Breton Court and the Privy Council, Ismae soon learns that Anne is a ruler worthy of protection and Gavriel may be a man worthy of her heart. If only St. Mortain would show her what her true destiny is.

I have been a fan of Robin LaFever's since I was wandering around Barnes and Noble back in 2007 and stumbled upon Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. The blend of Egyptian mythology with a plucky heroine in Edwardian England seemed a book that was written to perfectly meld all my favorite things inbetween two book covers. Not to mention the gorgeous art of Yoko Tanaka. Over the years I have waited with anticipation for each of the subsequent volumes to be released. I also fell in love with Robin's other series for younger readers, Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist. Needless to say, she quickly became on of my favorite writers and one whom I've forced nearly all my friends to read. Side note, it's not cruel and unusual punishment if they end up loving the books as I do. Plus, one of my friends named her son Nathaniel, so obviously her son needed a full set of the books (four so far)! Anyways, because of this lovely thing called the internet, I was able to get in touch with Robin because I felt that she needed to be exposed to as many readers as I could get her. First she joined goodreads, which I heartily encourage of everyone, and then with the launching of my blog, I now have even more of a platform in which to declare my love of these books.

This year marks a new series for Robin. Grave Mercy is the first in her new "His Fair Assassin" series, the HIM being Death. Set in Breton in the 15th century, Robin was "curious to see what [I] think, since it is SO different from Theo!" She's right, it is SO different from Theo. But I've come to the conclusion that a great author is able to write in any genre and on any subject matter as long as they have a clear authorial voice that comes through. Robin has that voice. It changes with the characters and the timeperiods she's writing about, but there's a way she grips you from the outset. She has an engaging writing style that doesn't make it feel like you're fighting the text to get from word to word and paragraph to paragraph. It's a book where you look up and find yourself surprised that an hour or two or three have passed, or even that it's five in the morning and shouldn't you be asleep by now?

This flow in her writing is even more impressive when you think about the fact that this is Historical Fiction in essence. I read a lot of Historical Fiction and it can easily be bogged down with overly archaic language, too many historical events and plot points given to you like a lesson at school that you hated the first time around and has you scrambling back and forth over the text trying to remember minutiae of each plot and counter plot. But Robin did an amazing job of making the people real and not making the history presented in a way that it was too complex therefore making me feel dense. The book just flowed. I fell for Ismae and her evil Hogwarts convent and then fell all over again when Gavriel showed up. These characters became real to me. I was invested in their lives and with getting them together! Jane Austen had it so right with Darcy and Elizabeth, now just make one an assassin and the other an upright young man, Anne his sister gets to be Georgiana, and you just wait for them to realize the truth that, though they are so different, they are so right for each other. The thing is, now I have a problem. I want the next book now. You are all reading this and being all jealous that I already got to read it and I'm sure you have no pity for me... but now I have to wait even longer than you for the second book, think of it that way.


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