I consider myself a reading omnivore — I’ll read anything and everything — but to be completely honest, there is a type of book that I really love. Give me a strong (yet vulnerable and flawed) heroine, one who wields a power (either physically or intellectually) that is both intriguing and awe-inspiring; a love interest who isn’t simpering, but an equal to our heroine, with some good push-and-pull in their relationship; make sure the plot is good and complex, without being confusing, and yet somehow keeps the action moving; throw in some swoon-worthy scenes for good measure, and I’m hooked.
Grave Mercy has every single one of those things, so how could I resist?
The basic story is this: It’s Brittany, 1485, and Ismae, our fair heroine, has been married off (at the young age of 14!) by her abusive father to a hulking brute of a man. Consigned to her fate, she is surprised when a series of herbwitches and priests save her, sneaking her off in the night. She ends up at the convent of St. Mortain, one of the old gods, where they worship Death.
And train the girls who are brought to them to be assassins.
Three years pass, and Ismae is ready to be sent off on assignments. She performs well, and so is thrown into something more grand and complex: court politics. She is sent off to keep an eye on Gavriel Duval, adviser to Anne, duchess of Brittany. Ismae is supposed to pose as his “cousin” and keep an eye on him; if he turns out to be a traitor, as the abbess and Count Crunard, a patron of the convent, suspect, then she is to kill him.
However, once there, Ismae discovers that court politics — as well as her heart — are much more complex than that.
I realized about 30 pages in that if Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon and any Philippa Gregory novel had a love child, this book would be it. There is everything those books promise, and more — court intrigue, romance, fights, horse chases, desperate situations, historical trappings, sweeping European settings — all covered in a sheen of mysticism for good measure.
While it’s no beach read — it’s complex and somewhat dark — it’s a deliciously enjoyable way to spend a few hours. Especially for someone with a weakness for this sort of book.
Rated: Moderate for subject matter, several instances of swearing, some violence, and a fade-to-black sex scene that is more implied than explained.