His Fair Assassin #1
by Robin LaFevers
She finally is given the chance to flee after her arranged marriage goes terribly, terribly wrong. And flee she does, into the capable hands of the convent of St. Mortain – where she embraces her parentage and is trained in the art of death, unaware of the burden she is accepting in her future missions.
On GoodReads, someone said in their review that while they might not like this book, they know EXACTLY who will. And I totally thought I was going to be one of those people who would.
Historical tome? Check. Girls training to be assassins? Check. Verbal sparring? Check. Royal court intrigue? Check!
Seriously, it was like lining ducks up in a row. So, I was a bit surprised when I was a bit let down by this novel and I had to do some serious thinking on what was bugging me about it.
I finally determined that Ismae was my biggest problem. While trained in the art of Death, in practicality she spends most of the book incredibly weak and naive. Which is completely understandable given the amount of time she spent shunned by her fellow villagers and then living in a convent. But still, it bugged me. Possibly because I’ve been reading so many strong female protags lately, that encountering a weak one made her seem even weaker.
She was constantly worrying about what other people would think, to the point it got a bit repetitive. Why isn’t she taking action? Oh, right, she has to consult, like, 50 people. I also guessed who the bad guy was within pages but it took Ismae 500 pages to get there.
Like I said, though, this naivete is, in all actuality, completely understandable given how Ismae was raised and her seclusion. And, as I thought about it, it was kind of intriguing: a girl is trained in the arts of Death, but so sheltered and unaware of her own mental strength, she struggles to trust herself and her gut. But that didn’t stop me from really wanting to throttle her a few times when it was PERFECTLY OBVIOUS she was right and didn’t have to consult her various peeps.
She does end up becoming incredibly strong-willed by the end of the book, which was such a relief to see. It just took so long to get there. (I could see the argument that, in actuality, the development of Ismae’s character was perfectly timed because it takes a long time to trust yourself. I agree – LaFevers did a great job making it a slow process and not having her kick ass overnight. However, it lead to some pretty repetitive dialogues about consulting people and worrying that she hadn’t consulted the right person. I’m not saying this wouldn’t really happen, just that it was a bit boring to read. In actuality, I skimmed those parts after a bit.)
Other than that very big issue (for me – I’m not sure this would be nearly the issue for other people), there is So Much to be applauded about this book (and, I assume, about the series). Grave Mercy is a Historical Novel and it takes no prisoners. I LOVED that LaFevers didn’t shy away from the political intrigue and court dynamics in a YA novel. YAs (and readers of YA) are smart! And the books written for them should be just as smart! Gorgeous, gorgeous all around.
In reality, I read this book in one sitting. All 500-some pages. It is super plot driven. (This also might be why I was so annoyed with the Ismae-worrying passages: it got in the way of the ACTION.) LaFevers doesn’t focus on the few years Ismae has spent at the convent learning, rather she moves us ahead and gets right to the killings…err…action.
I became incredibly invested in the fate of the duchess, even if the duchess seemed WAY too benevolent and perfect at times. There is one death that absolutely GUTTED me. (Although, was anyone else shocked the duchess was 13, I believe? That was..weird. Actually, I’m really confused about the ages of the characters from start to finish.) I really, really hope we get more of the duchess and her future in the coming novels and this wasn’t a storyline just meant for Ismae.
While I had some pretty big issues with Ismae, it wasn’t enough for me to not like what the book was trying to achieve. (Like I said, I was a bit disappointed. I think the whole “assassin trained in death arts” set me up on that one, even if the rest of the book’s description does explain that Ismae struggles to really figure things out.)
Honestly, of the three girls that it appears each book will feature, Ismae is/was the least interesting to me. So, I’m very much looking forward to the intrigue of the next two!
How I came into contact with this book: e-galley from publisher
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt