Die deutsche Rezension gibt's hier
Brittany, 1488: 17-year-old Ismae is a novice nun in a convent, but instead of living in prayer she is learning how to kill. With that, she is supposed to serve Mortain, the God of Death, and to execute those he has marked. For her final test, she is to travel to the duchess’ court. Though young, Duchess Anne has to marry soon and profitable after the death of her father to secure Brittany’s independence from France. Many engagements are broken off, though, or would provoke a war Brittany couldn’t win. If this weren’t complicated enough, the young duchess is surrounded by traitors, whom Ismae is supposed to expose. She is helped by the attractive Gavriel Duval, who at the same time is her first suspect. At least the convent told her that he is not to be trusted, but everything else tells her that he’s honest. Whom can she trust? Her heart or the supposed infallibility of the convent she swore to obey?
When I read about “Grave Mercy” for the first time, it was more or less a question of when I was going to read the book, not if. Young girls that are trained to kill and that are the daughters of death himself? Well, if that doesn’t sound promising, I don’t know what does.
The book starts in that manner, after the 14-year-old Ismae has been saved from her husband and is brought to the convent. Soon it is discovered that she has some talent with poison and of course she is also trained to use weapons, just as her sisters are. She only has some problems with the “weapons of women” which made me a little bit skeptical for the first time. Ismae doesn’t see much importance in those skills, but of course you sometimes need something like this to get near somebody. If someone who has been brought up in a pretty safe environment knows this but a soon-to-be assassin doesn’t … well, then something’s wrong.
Be it as it may, Ismae has her weaknesses and obviously being a little naïve is one of them.
Another would be that she doesn’t think about her orders in the beginning. It’s nothing you can really hold against her. She thinks she’s doing the right thing and why should she doubt the women who gave her a new life? As the reader, we are a little bit more suspicious of course. If someone demands blind obedience, then they’re either fanatical or they have a skeleton in the cupboard (this might be literal under the circumstances). Or both.
So, the next part of the book starts rather worrying after two murders (that are no murders, according to the convent). This part is slower and deals with Anne’s court and the conspiracies. Or at least that’s what you might think. In fact, the story concentrates more (though not only) on the romance between Ismae and Gavriel that didn’t appeal to me that much then. Ismae’s instantly focused in Gravriel’s looks and there is rarely a scene with him where his attractiveness isn’t highlighted. This gets annoying after a while, but fortunately it becomes real chemistry eventually. I might neither be impressed nor disappointed by Ismae’s character, but she and Gavriel are a nice and very lovable team that caused at least some fan girl moments. I could enjoy the romantic part, after all, and therefore suffered with them. Of course, it’s quite practical that Gavriel is a very likable but not too nice guy, and that Ismae finally realizes that it’s nothing bad to doubt and that the convent is somewhat self-righteous. I was also very (very) much pleased that the book doesn’t sell marriage as the most precious good on earth.
It might be a little bit more difficult to be pleased with the rest of the book. It isn’t boring, especially not if you like this kind of conspiracies. That Ismae is not able to act as she wants and that the pace gets somehow slower shouldn’t surprise anybody and I personally liked it that way. I love those little verbal battles, the forced diplomacy even though they want to cut each other’s throats, those little important and not so important information that comes step by step … if you like things like that, “Grave Mercy” won’t disappoint you.
Still, there could have been more. Some things aren’t a danger at all in the end; with others it is too easy to guess who’s responsible for them. Other suspects are so obviously not guilty, they would have earned a hundred Oscars if they had something to do with it after all. No, it’s pretty easy to see who belongs to the bad guys which didn’t decrease the fun I had while watching as the plot evolves.
This part of the story isn’t quite finished, but to be honest, it’s politics. How can it be finished? One action causes the next trouble, with every step you can gain allies or get new enemies. There isn’t really an end to politics and I just expect the story to continue in the next book, even though there will be a new protagonist.
You should just be warned about one thing: there is some fantasy, even though it’s just the belief in a god. He’s no mere idea to explain things that can’t be explained otherwise but real. He leads them, he is a father, and he’s there. It isn’t a dominant part of the book, but you can’t ignore it either.
There isn’t much I could complain about the language. It is a pretty easy and nice read (at least the German translation is) and it mostly sounds like the time it is set in. Only now and then, there are some words I can’t believe that they’ve been used back then, like ‘baby’ for instance.
Furthermore, there are some repetitions of phrases and words alike that didn’t annoy me too much while reading but I noticed them.
“Grave Mercy” is a book with a very, very interesting premise that could have used some more conspiracy. Still, it’s a nice read and even though the romance is a little bit forced to begin with, it gets better, just as the protagonist learns her lesson. If you like it slower, romantic but still a little bit bloody, you should try this book.