Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1)
by Robin LaFevers.
If you’re looking for a blend of historical fiction, fantasy, intrigue and romance through a young adult filter, this book is for you. It’s the story of Ismae, a young girl in late 1400’s Brittany. Horribly scarred from birth, Ismae has always thought she was cursed. But after escaping an abusive arranged marriage, she is taken in by the nuns at the convent of St. Mortain. She discovers that her scars and certain other talents mark her as a daughter of St. Mortain (aka. the old world god of Death), and she is to be trained as Death’s handmaiden (aka. assassin). The convent serves Death, but they also serve the duchy of Brittany, and so Ismae is plunged into a world of political intrigue and danger. And, inescapably, an unexpected romance. Thrust into the unfamiliar world of the high court of Brittany, Ismae has to figure out who to trust and where she really belongs.
This was a good read. I have a bias towards liking female assassins/warriors in medieval settings (girl power!) so I’ve read a lot of such stories, and this one was a bit different. Since the setting is an actual historical period, and not pure fantasy, the story was more grounded and the political stuff more interesting. Ismae is a well-written character, and you see her growth throughout the story. The romantic interest is fun, and the touch of fantasy elements add some unexpected angles. I did figure out the ‘mystery’ well before the characters, so that felt a bit obvious. And I refuse to believe that anyone teaching/learning poisons wouldn’t also teach/learn the antidotes. But overall, I enjoyed this read.
It is part of a series, but it looks like it’s one of those series where each book focuses on a different character. In the case of this series, the other books go on to focus on some fellow trainees from the convent. Ismae’s story was wrapped up nicely, though I’m sure she’ll have cameos in the subsequent books. I will likely pick them up eventually.