Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
So, you’ve had woman assassins, teen assassins, but now you have teen nun spy-assassins! No really, Ismae was saved from a dreadful marriage and whisked away to the Church of St. Mortain when she was 14 years old to train in the deadly arts. Said to all be Daughters of the God of Death, (Hades allusions galore) these girls are gifted and Ismae more so – she can see the Mark of traitors on people, she can sense when someone is about to die and she is immune to all poisons, making her a natural fit to be Death’s handmaiden. Cut to 3 years later, when she is fulfilling her first few assignments and gets involved in the politics surrounds the Duchy of Brittany.
What makes Grave Mercy exciting is the plot – political intrigues are always great spy novel fodder, and Ismae is a most certainly a spy. Sent as a mistress in disguise to the darkly handsome Gavriel Duval, one of the late Duke’s bastards and the current Duchess’ most fiercest protectors, Ismae has to work around his suspicions of her and her Church’s motives, while also ensuring that the will of the god is carried out. It certainly has a cult-like status – her devotion to the Church and their expectation of complete obedience, but this is the story of a young girl who was picked out of a hard life and given a purpose. She is smart and resourceful, and soon learns the intricacies of the court politics well enough to suss out suspects. Her growing attraction to Duval, however, put her duties at odds with her desire, which further adds conflict to the plot. The twists of the plot keep you on your toes and wanting for more. Honestly, even though this novel is like 500+ pages, I didn’t ever feel the need to put it down.
The ending was also a great climax, with more insight into what it means to be a handmaiden to Death, as well as setting up the story for Sybelle. I will miss Ismae and Duval so much!