This is not the book you can easily put down.
Grave Mercy is set in 15th century in Brittany. At that time, Brittany is in complex situation since their disadvantageous treaty with France. Anne, the Duchess of Brittany is not yet crowned and she is only twelve years old. Many people try to take advantage of that situation and Anne only has a few handful of loyal baron to serve her. The main task is to have Anne crowned and marry her to a powerful ruler.
Ismae was only fourteenth when she was to be married to a pig farmer in a horrible arranged marriage. However, her husband gone berserk when he found out that Ismae bears a deep red stain on her back as a proof that she is daughter of god of Death. She was in danger to be burnt to death by her husband, but she was saved and brought to a convent in a quiet, remote place. The convent is dedicated to serve St. Mortain, the old god of Death. The Abbes of St. Mortain offered her a choice to be the handmaiden of Death. Ismae was instantly intrigued by the possibility of revenge, to men who have done nothing but hurt her, including her own father.
“If you choose to stay, you will be trained in His arts. You will learn more ways to kill a man than you imagined possible. We will train you in stealth and cunning and all manner of skills that will ensure no man is ever again a threat to you.”
Ismae decided to be the handmaiden of Death. She will not question the convent or how they pick people she should kill. An unquestioning faith.
In three years, Ismae quickly learns the art of dagger, bows, and her specialty, poison. She also learns the art of seduction which the sisters said would help her in her missions. She never thought that she would ever use the art of seduction… until circumstance comes and suddenly, she is to act as the mistress of Gavriel Duval. Duval is a Breton noble, bastard of the late Duke, and the closest advisor of her twelve years old sister, Duchess of Brittany. He is also being suspected of betrayal by the Abbes and her ally, Chancellor Crunad.
Ismae is supposed to be the convent’s eyes and ears in the court. Duval is not a foolish and he knows that Ismae is watching his every moves. They're supposed to be ally, but no more than that. Still, they can’t resist the building attraction between them. Is Duval really a traitor, as the Abbess and Chancellor Crunad suspected? Can Ismae trust her own prejudice that Duval is not the traitor? Will she raise her bow and kill the man she is beginning to trust, if the convent gives her command to do so?
As I said earlier, Grave Mercy is the kind of book that you long to finish in one sit. The story is very engaging and it’s easy to slip into the conflict and political play in Brittany’s court. This book may bore people who don’t enjoy court politics, but I find the whole plot very convincing and nicely written. I practically flied through the pages because I was very curious to see the ending. The story is also fast-paced and I like it that there is no ineffective chapter that prolongs the whole story.
Ismae is a strong character and definitely an admirable heroine. She knows her ways with weapons and knows how to put act in front of her enemies. She is a bit impatient but I think that makes her more believable. I love when Ismae started warmed toward Duval. There’s not instant love here, and they even barely admitted the spark of attraction between them. Duval is such as swoon worthy character and I feel like he is the personification of a perfect knight in medieval court. He’s powerful, brilliant, and capable of making clever strategy and astounding tactics. I like the way he cares for Ismae from the very start and how he teases Ismae from time to time.
I couldn’t risk putting Grave Mercy down because the entire story is very complicated. Truth be told, the characters’ name feel foreign in my tongue and I had a little trouble remembering their names sometimes. I don’t have any trouble with the writing, it is beautiful and I can really feel the medieval atmosphere when the characters interact. Grave Mercy is not the book you want to miss, especially if you’re a fan of Historical fiction!
I risk glancing at him, expecting to see a glint of amusement or a smirk. Instead, there is a hint of concern. It is this kindness of his that unsettles me most. I can dodge a blow or block a knife. I am impervious to poison and know a dozen ways to escape a chokehold or garrote wire. But kindness? I do not know how to defend against that.
Four cups of tea. Amazing! Love the book, it’s simply awesome. I love the tea flavor! A strong recommendation.