By Robin LaFevers
“Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?”
― R.L. LaFevers, Grave Mercy
I enjoy learning about history, particularly British and European history, but the time period of Grave Mercy is one that I'm not terribly familiar with. The story takes place in the late 1400s in Brittany. The country is struggling to maintain its independence against the French, while dealing with turmoil and infighting within its ranks. Ismae is a young woman who was raised by an abusive father and finds a better life when she's spirited away from her new husband and brought to a convent. At the convent, she discovers what it means to be the daughter of Mortain - one of the old gods given the title Saint to allow them to continue worshipping him in the Christian world. Mortain is Death, and Ismae is one of Death's Handmaidens, and she learns to be an assassin at the convent.
Grave Mercy was different in tone and voice from other YA novels I've read. The story is very politically minded; the major plot line is the struggle to make Anne a duchess of Brittany and keep her from the hands of scheming suitors, as well as the French. Poor Anne is only 12 or 13, and it's difficult reading about her situation when you remember her age.
There is a romance subplot, but the romance feeds the overall story and Ismae's journey, rather than being the focal point. And it's not full of teenage angst; these characters have more important things to think about. So while these feelings are disconcerting to our heroine, they don't pull focus when it's time to deal with the fate of the country, and overall, they're dealt with maturely.
I really enjoyed this book, particularly the historical elements, and the paranormal element was new and intriguing. I'd recommend this series to anyone looking to dig in to a YA book.