Fantasy Reviews #1 – Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers & Graceling by Kristin Cashore

May 20, 2015 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

Fantasy Reviews #1 – Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers & Graceling by Kristin CashoreGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Published by Andersen Press on June 7, 2012
Source: Purchased
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical
Amazon | Book Depository
Add to Goodreads

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.

A rather awkward scene towards the end, where Ismae conveniently View Spoiler » made me raise my eyebrows,

“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 5

Fantasy Reviews #1 – Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers & Graceling by Kristin CashoreGraceling by Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm #1
Published by Gollancz on January 22, 2009
Source: Purchased
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Amazon | Book Depository
Add to Goodreads

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


The following two tabs change content below.
Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

Tags: , , ,

59 responses to “Fantasy Reviews #1 – Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers & Graceling by Kristin Cashore

  1. I love the fact that you reviewed these books together. Both the MCs are a bit similar in character and both books are wonderful novels with great world building and characters.
    I adored the relationship between Duval and Ismae, there was mutual trust and I loved how they worked together. And I also liked the political background and how it was developed.
    Graceling was awesome! Po was a darling and Katsa was such a great kickass heroine!
    My recent post Let's have a cup of coffee

  2. Grave Mercy sounds SO unique. I love the idea of assassin nuns… I mean, where did the author pull that idea from? As for the second book I have never heard of it before but it does seem pretty intriguing to me!
    My recent post Devon's Choice (Review)

  3. Romi

    Ah, lovely review of Graceling, Jeann! I adored that, even if I only found out over a year later that I'd gotten Katsa's name wrong and had named my pet after what I thought she was called, but OH WELL. Moving on.
    I'm really thrilled you enjoyed it so much- I agree that Katsa is such a strong heroine and such a triumph. I love that we have these female characters who are standing up for themselves and still triumphing. So important.
    My recent post Fiction to Film (1)

  4. Faye M.

    I love that these two fantasies have great, awesome, ass-kicking and independent female heroines. Oftentimes, when we have fantasy, especially in adult fantasy, females are oftentimes limited to the prostitutes or inn keepers or simply healers who stay behind the lines. We need more kick butts if you ask me! Are you reading the sequels after graceling?
    My recent post Random Things in Motion #19: My Book Ritual When I’m Angry

  5. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    Oh I'm so glad you read these! I think Graceling is the better book of the two so I'm glad you felt the same! (Although the second Grave Mercy book is fantastic!) Katsa in particular is such a bad-ass – I loved her.
    My recent post Movie Musical Challenge: The Band Wagon

    • Yay, we are definitely on the same page when it comes to these two books Charlene! can't wait to read the next in the series.

  6. readerswonderland

    Yay, I loved these two so I'm glad you liked this too! The Ismae/Duval scene at the end made me a little confused as well, that was indeed…odd. Thankfully no such weird moments in the next books xD (That I remember haha) I really liked Graceling but the second book, Fire, is probably my favorite because FINALLY a love interest that isn't conventionally handsome.
    My recent post ARC Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

    • I know, I've heard so many raves for ages and I'm glad I finally picked them up! Yeah…it just made me raise my eyebrows, I don't know what else to say about it lol. Very weird. Glad to hear you liked Fire, I've heard mixed reviews but I've got the book on my shelf ready to go.

  7. YAY I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed Grave Mercy as well, I loved that book 🙂 It was different than most YA books, I haven't read Graceling, but I have heard so many mixed reviews about it.. Your review does have me wanting to give it a try though since we have similar tastes 🙂 Lovely reviews for both books Jeann!
    My recent post Mixed feelings.. A Court of Thorns and Roses Review♥

    • It was so good Benish, I really enjoyed the deep world building and everything, definitely felt like a more mature YA. Glad to hear you're keen on Graceling, I think you'd love it! Thank you lovely 🙂

  8. danielleisbusyreading

    Grave Mercy is one of my favorite books, and that's a series I feel gets better with each and every book. I hope you enjoy the other two as well!
    Lovely reviews!

    • So glad to hear you enjoyed both of them as much as me! I will need to pick up the sequels myself too 🙂

  9. laylapalooza

    AHAHA yay! I am so pleased that you read and reviewed both of these. I think Grave Mercy is weaker than the second book in the series (the story is more on point, the plot doesn't feel quiiiite as unfocused as it does in the first, where the intrigue puzzled me much of the time). The series gets better! Continue, continue! 🙂 🙂

    And as for Graceling, I looooooved that book. So glad that you also enjoyed. A strong lady in the lead! I liked it. But I also liked the way Katsa's understanding of her Grace changes.

    • Thanks Layla, glad to hear Grave Mercy gets better! Man I really loved Katsa and how kickass and sure of herself she was.

  10. LilysBookBlog

    I have to read both of these and i've had them on my TBR for literally…YEARS…and i just haven't gotten around to read them *shakes head* i promise i will Jeann and i'll love them as much you did!

    • Yes, I've been the same Lily…that's why I finally picked them up, because at least we know the rest of the series is good hehe

    • Absolutely, I'm glad to hear that the latter books for both series are good too 🙂 No problems Braine!

  11. keionda

    That cover! oh that cover!I'm in love! AND I agree that sometimes it's hard to keep up with the differentry roles of characters if there's a bunch thrown at you. So it was a plus that the lists of the characters was in the beginning.

    • That's fair enough Paula, I read a lot of contemps but my favourite is fantasy/paranormal/dystopian hehe

  12. *snorts* That's what I thought of Grave Mercy as well… and I still haven't gotten around to reading it because it's just THAT huge for a first book in a series, right?!?! And let me be a bit honest here: I now think it's probably Downtown Abbey smashed with Little Red Riding Hood. I think the version I saw when it came out had the sheep. Or the hunter. Or both.

    *throws up hands* I give up. I don't remember that time.

    Wait… assassin nuns? O_O

    It's been awhile since I've read Graceling, though. I think I liked it, but felt really awkward with the romance. Then again, I was 14 or 15. Of course I would feel awkward. :p
    My recent post Cover Reveal: Name of Ra by Kelsey Ketch

    • Hahah I'm so glad others are agreeing lol! Yeah, it's a pretty massive book but sooo worth it! I'm not sure about DA because I haven't watched it lol. YEAH ASSASSIN NUNS FOR SURE LOL. Hahha fair enough Sophia, the romance was pretty sizzling 😉

  13. *gigglesnorts* Okay, that was a bit funny, but your reasons for thinking Grave Mercy was a retelling are totally legitimate. 🙂 So glad you ended up enjoying this book because DUVAL. And I like how you mentioned Ismae knowing her skill (unlike every single other heroine out there) and is still not boasting about it.

    I read Graceling AGES ago and can't remember anything about it, but the way you described the romance makes me want to reread it! You know how slow-burn romance are my thing–and hero who changes the heroine's mind about marriage/children is another favorite trope of mine. 😀

    Fabulous reviews, Jeann! <33
    My recent post Waiting On Wednesday #13: Anything Could Happen

    • Hahah so glad to hear it's not just me Aimee! Ismae was actually quite a stuck up character but I kind of liked her cockiness you know? Yeah, Graceling had some really strong messages, I'm glad I finally picked it up because she was really kickass. Thank you Aimee! <3

  14. *gigglesnorts* Okay, that was a bit funny, but your reasons for thinking Grave Mercy was a retelling are totally legitimate. 🙂 So glad you ended up enjoying this book because DUVAL. And I like how you mentioned Ismae knowing her skill (unlike every single other heroine out there) and is still not boasting about it.

    I read Graceling AGES ago and can't remember anything about it, but the way you described the romance makes me want to reread it! You know how slow-burn romance are my thing–and hero who changes the heroine's mind about marriage/children is another favorite trope of mine. 😀

    Fabulous reviews, Jeann! <33
    My recent post Waiting On Wednesday #13: Anything Could Happen

  15. booksbonesbuffy

    I've had Grave Mercy sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years but I still haven't read it, but reading your review is definitely getting me interested again. And I LOVED Graceling and the next book in the series, Fire. I actually loved Fire more, I think. Thanks for reviewing, Jeann!
    My recent post Blog Tour Blues

    • Yeah, I read a few recent reviews that talked about Grave Mercy which definitely sparked my interest to pick it up. Glad to hear you loved Fire, I have it on my shelf to read!

  16. I really enjoyed both of these books, but Grave Mercy is definitely my favorite. Duval is super swoony and of course I loved Ismae. The second book is even more badass!
    I've got to finish off the Kristin Cashore series! So many books, so little time. 🙁
    Lovely review, Jeann!
    My recent post Review : Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash

    • Yesss I loved Duval and Ismae, both of these books had a wonderful slow burn romance. I definitely know what you mean Nick!

  17. I really loved GRAVE MERCY (and I can totally see how you could think it’s a retelling of Red Riding Hood from the cover alone, lol!) but haven’t gotten around to reading the rest of the series *cue sheepish grin*. GRACELING is a book I have to read soon because it sounds absolutely amazing. Great reviews for both books!!! 😀
    My recent post Waiting on Wednesday – Week 141

    • LOL I'm glad it's not just me Rabiah! I've heard that the rest of the series is excellent too, so I'm looking forward to it. Thank you!

    • Yeah, I really liked the Grave Mercy setting, it was done really well. So much travelling in Graceling but man, I love the messaging. Thanks Rachel!

    • It was really fantastic Pili, so glad I finally picked it up. I've heard so much about Graceling, it was fantastic!

  18. thebigfatf

    LOVE THE DOUBLE FANTASY REVIEWS! I bet you came back to reality in a daze. Haha.
    Isn't Po the best?! I loved his understanding and the fact that they were both quite equal in skill so they were perfect for each to each other. I haven't read Grave Mercy but I've heard exceptional things about it (including you) and assassin nuns is all I need to know.
    Thanks Jeann!

    • Thanks Faith, I tend to binge a certain genre at a given time lol! I have my next double reviews already set as well, just as soon as I finish The Girl at Midnight. Thanks for reading!

    • Thanks Mel, I really loved them! Too bad about Fire, I have it on my shelf to read now as well, kind of wish it was a continuation.

  19. I ABSOLUTELY ADORED GRACELING. As you know, hehe. I'm still tossing whether to try Fire or not. I mean, I definitely want to dive back into that world, but it was Katsa I really truly loved. I'm opposite with Grave Mercy though. Agh. Awkwardness. But I didn't love that one at all! I KNOW. Such a surprise. Assassin nuns is like best premise ever. xD

    • I've been meaning to tell you Cait but the other day I looked on my shelf and saw that I already had a copy of Fire lol! I'll probably pick it up at some point.