Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Published by Andersen Press on June 7, 2012
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical
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Young, beautiful and deadly. Trained as an assassin by the god of Death, Ismae is sent to the court of Brittany, where she finds herself under prepared - not only for the 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 it took me ages to read Grave Mercy because don’t laugh, from the blurb on the front I thought it was a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. I mean the character is wearing red and it mentions hunting and being a hunter, or a sheep and in a wolf in some editions so of course that’s the big bad wolf right…*awkward silence*
“I am a handmaiden of Death. I walk in His dark shadow and do His bidding. Serving Him is my only purpose in this life…”
Then I heard about it was about assassin nuns, and of course my interest was piqued. Ismae is an incredibly devout character who takes orders from her convent and kills victims who bear the mark of Saint Mortain, the God of Death. She resists poison and is trained in a range of weapons in her arsenal, depending on the type of death she needs to inflict, including bow and arrows, daggers, poisons and even her sexuality. This rather detailed account of death and assassination is terrific, and what I expected in Throne of Glass, but never got.
The thing is, Ismae has a skill, and she knows it, and she is rather arrogant about it as well. A bit of self confidence never hurt anyone, and I liked how the nobles at Court, particularly Duval, allowed her to question herself more than once. Ismae is powerful, intelligent, and skilled in the art of assassinating but also terribly flawed as well.
The desires of my convent have collided with the path of my heart.
Grave Mercy is a long book and there are times when the plot slowly crawls along, taking time to build up the relationships between the nobles, the slow burning romance between Ismae and Duval and the court politics and power plays at hand. There isn’t a strong plot, with most of the novel based on Ismae’s role to protect the young duchess at Court. There is an underlying romance, which serves as a key for Ismae’s character development. I grew to really like and trust Duval, who is ever concerned with the duchess’s safety and allows Ismae to penetrate his barrier as well.
As with many fantasy books, there are a lot of characters and links to remember, which I struggled with slightly. You’ve got lords, ladies, servants, nobles, armies and courts, and then the abbess and the convent but I was thankful for the list of characters at the front of the book.
“Perhaps that is because you mistake death for justice, and they are not the same thing at all.” – Duval
Death, destruction and desire, Grave Mercy delivers a story of assassination, political intrigue and devotion to one’s faith and the whisperings of the heart. While the story started off a bit slow, I enjoyed discovering Ismae’s fiesty nature and everything she’s been taught and will learn at her time at Court, under Duval’s influence. Definitely a novel I really enjoyed.
Rating: 4 out of 5Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm #1
Published by Gollancz on January 22, 2009
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing.
Feared by the court and shunned by those her own age, the darkness of her Grace casts a heavy shadow over Katsa’s life. Yet she remains defiant: when the King of Lienid’s father is kidnapped she investigates, and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap the old man, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced man whose fighting abilities rivalled her own?
The only thing Katsa is sure of is that she no longer wants to kill. The intrigue around this kidnapping offers her a way out – but little does she realise, when she takes it, that something insidious and dark lurks behind the mystery. Something spreading from the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king...
Graceling is strong on feminism values, with a heroine that refuses to wear dresses and look pretty, who is powerless to change her own situation, and while this is applied with a heavy hand at times, I appreciated this female empowerment.
If there’s anyone that could be defined as kick ass, it would be Katsa. She’s blessed with the Grace of Killing, ready to cause death on anyone in a single touch. I absolutely adored Katsa, she was fiesty, strong both mentally and physically, the killer and the protector. She struggles against carrying out assassination orders from her Uncle, and quietly defies him in any way she can. While the first half of the book shows Katsa in a subservient role, she really grows into her independence in the latter half of the novel when she meets Po.
When you’re a monster, she thought, you are thanked and praised for not behaving like a monster. She would like to restrain from cruelty and receive no admiration for it.
Po is a Lienid who is the only person who has ever matched her fighting skill. The two spar with each other, which blooms into a budding friendship and then, finally, a beautiful romance. I loved how their love of each other was born out of mutual respect for each other, and although she’s vowed never to marry or bear children, Po admires and appreciates Katsa for her very being. With patience and unending support, Po will slowly change Katsa’s mind on letting someone else in. And I loved him for it, for waiting, for being there for Katsa, for being such a crucial part to her development.
The Graces was an interesting concept, where people are born with exceptional abilities. This could be anything from climbing trees, to killing, to reading minds or anything else. There are some terrifying and death defying ones here, particularly the one for Katsa and Po, but learning the villain’s secrets was also interesting.
“I’m not going to wear a red dress,” she said.
“It would look stunning, My Lady,” she called.
She spoke to the bubbles gathered on the surface of the water. “If there’s anyone I wish to stun at dinner, I’ll hit him in the face.
The epic world in Graceling, kingdoms ruled by different rulers was done really well. The only downside, would be the amount of travelling in the novel as Katsa and Po move from place to place, which really made it really slow down in the latter half.
I loved the charm of the book, there’s a fairy tale like quality here with a strong message. We as females, with belief and resolve, are able to change the course of our fate. As long as we surround ourself with a support network of strong people, and those who respect who we are as individuals, then we’ll be able to grow and be our own person. Everyone deserves their own Po, and I can only thank Graceling for reinforcing that.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5