Grave Mercy has been on my to be read list for a very, very long time. Ever since the cover was revealed I knew I had to get my hands on this one, I mean, she is holding a crossbow!
Ismae has been unwanted all of her life. Her mother took poison to expel her from her womb, and after that it doesn't get much better. When the opportunity arises for her to join the St Mortain convent she jumps on it. Here she is trained as an assassin in service of the ancient saint of Death. When she is sent away on a mission, she will have to choose between fulfilling her duty or following her heart.
The first thing that came to mind while reading Grave Mercy is epic fantasy. The second is medieval fiction. Young-adult fiction didn't enter my mind until I saw this book labelled as such. For me Grave Mercy doesn't have that typical "young" feeling that YA books have. I guess that because the main character Ismae is a teenager it is a correct label, but I'm afraid it creates an expectation that it can't live up to. It's not the fluffy light historical romp through medieval fantasy land, full of kick-ass nuns that can do ninja tricks. Instead, it has courtly intrigue and mystery and conflicting interests. It makes for an engaging read - but I fear that a lot of people diving into Grave Mercy will not be expecting this level of seriousness.
I personally loved it. I'm a great fan of epic fantasy and of huge tomes containing page after page of world-building and plot background. This already is a pretty fat book with it's five-hundred pages, but I actually wouldn't have minded if there were more. As it is, I think some people will be put off by it's length. Yes, there are five-hundred pages. And no, not every single one of them has a fight or action in it. There is a lot of walking and talking, sitting down and some more talking, spying and listening to people talking. Ms LaFevers has spun a beautiful tale, but you can only appreciate it if you truly have the patience to see it play out.
Ismae is a great leading character, and I had no troubles at all to emphasise with her. I may not agree with every one of her actions, but I can understand all of them. Besides Ismae there are some other pretty awesome characters; I have so many favourites that I'm not going to describe them all. The love interest gets an honourable mention though - it was great to see that a mysterious guy doesn't have to be a rude guy. He is a very kind and chivalrous person, which made it easier for me to believe his and Ismae's connection.
The whole fantasy aspect was subtle but very well done. If you're looking for a solid fantasy read set in the middle ages, I would certainly recommend Grave Mercy. I'm very much anticipating the sequel, which will be told from Sybella's perspective, another girl from the convent.