Thursday, June 28, 2012
A Pretty Girl with a License to Kill
Who doesn't love a girl with deadly talents? A girl who can take down a grown man in a variety of ways and properly dispose of the body? Well... I guess the men whose bodies she disposes of, of course!! In Robin LaFever's Grave Mercy, Ismae is a young woman you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, and if you did, you had better hope you didn't bear the mark of St. Mortain, death himself!
After being sold by her father to a filthy old man at the age of 14, Ismae had very little trust in men. She barely made it through her wedding night unscathed, but her determination preserved her while others saved her and sent her to the convent where the nuns raise young women who are the daughters of St. Mortain. These girls are impervious to poison and survive death in many ways, and so they must follow the word of Mortain and do his bidding. Angry and bitter at her lot in life, Ismae is all to happy to serve Mortain as one of his "Handmaidens" or assassins. When she finally gets her first huge assignment, her excitement is clouded by the arrogant man who comes with it named Gavriel Duval.
Duval has the same purpose in life as Ismae, to protect the young duchess and secure the crown of Brittany for her, but they have different ways of accomplishing that goal. When Ismae's first two assassinations ruin Duval's chance of getting information out of her victims, he goes straight to the convent. There, the nuns decide Ismae must accompany him to court to protect the duchess, but neither Duval nor Ismae are thrilled by the idea of spending so much time together. They know their duties lie with the protection of the duchess, but with all the political backstabbing and treachery in the court, it is hard to know who is on their side. Ismae realizes her studies at the convent were a lifetime of knowledge about ending a person's life but were sorely lacking in how to live her own life.
Oh, Mercy, Mercy! There is something about historical fiction that, if done well, is so much fun! And Mercy Me! Robin LaFevers (pen name?) is executed brilliantly. There is the perfect amount of old world language (breaking the fast vs. breakfast), period continuity (being married off without your consent at age 14), and medieval issues and politics to keep you believing the time period, but the way it is told makes an "old" story accessible to today's readers. This is a hard line to walk without falling to one side or the other, but I believe LaFever's did a great job with it. I loved the execution of Ismae, a girl who hates men and only wants vengeance learning that there are good men out there, not only as love interests, but as friends as well. It was a wonderful transformation when coupled with her struggle between duty to her saint and her calling and knowing what is right and wrong. And Duval? You want an upstanding, strong leading man to fall in love with? Well look no further! In the movie version I picture him played by Chris Hemsworth and I swoon a little bit ;-). Duval's loyalty is questioned for much of the book by pretty much every character, but you just know he is loyal to his sister, the duchess. And combine Ismae and Duval and you have the ultimate power couple (with knives and poisons and crossbows, of course).
Due to the setting of this book, it might be a little advanced for your typical middle readers through budding young adult readers. I would save this book for more advanced students who can handle a historical novel and a rather large novel. Younger students might get lost in the period consistencies and bogged down by the political situations and treachery, so save this for a stronger reader who will enjoy those aspects. Also, there are a few intimate scenes between Ismae and Duval and a few near rape scenes, but all are handled gracefully and aren't terribly graphic (although if the reader has a strong imagination, they can quickly become pretty graphic!). These scenes wouldn't prevent me from recommending this book to any teen, but they are there. My one issue with this book is that I wanted to see more of Beast and de Lornay, the only men Duval trusts and the same men Ismae eventually admits are her friends. They were awesome characters and I just didn't see as much of them as I wanted! I guess that isn't as much an issue with the book but a greediness for more of such great characters! This was a phenomenal book, and I suspect the next book in the series will be more of a companion than a sequel due to the blurb in the back of this book, but I can tell you I plan to read it as soon as it is released!