I really enjoyed this book, more than I thought I would. It is fantasy, but a very YA take on the genre, definitely not high fantasy. It reminded me of Kristen Cashore’s Graceling and Bitterblue, with similar characters and plot dynamics.
The amazon description of this book does a woefully inadequate job of expressing what this novel is about. It acts as if the plot of the book is Ismae having to decide if she will kill a man she falls in love with (Duval, by the way). She isn’t asked to kill him until page 400, and it is overshadowed by much more important plot lines running at the time. The book is fantastic without the drama the description depicts.
Here’s how I would describe it:
Ismae is only too happy when she is offered a place in the convent of Mortain, the god of death. After a life with an abusive father and a narrow escape from a brutal arranged marriage, the job of killing men on the god’s instructions is welcome. After training to be an assassin for three years, Ismae is given a series of tasks, which will earn her full membership of the convent. On these tasks, her path crosses that of Duval, a member of the royal court sworn to protect the young duchess while her country is plagued by the threat of French attack. Through a convoluted series of events, they set off for court together, with Ismae masquerading as his cousin (which everyone interprets as mistress). Ismae is on orders to see is Duval is a traitor; Duval is attempting to keep the duchess safe from the many arranged marriages set up before her father’s death.
Inside the court, it’s basically a giant game of FMK, with rampant affairs, powerful barons trying to gain power by marrying the duchess, and people trying to kill each other for their own political gain. Ismae is drawn into the royal family, desperate to distrust Duval, even as she is forced to question the convent that has been her first home.
The book is really well done. Good writing, very distinct and alive characters. The evolution of the dynamic between Ismea and Duval is done beautifully, never betraying the characters LaFevers created. One of the reveals was a bit obvious, but it worked with the story.
I would really recommend Grave Mercy. There’s a little bit of romance, hints of fantasy, lots of political intrigue. It’s captivating and hard to put down.