His Fair Assassin (Book 1)
By Robin LaFevers
Available now from Graphia (Houghton Mifflin)
I'm always a little wary of heavily hyped books, especially ones that sound perfect for me. They rarely live up to my expectations. I couldn't resist GRAVE MERCY - assassins, politics, personified DEATH - but I worried that I wouldn't like it since everyone has been so enthusiastic.
I worried in vain. GRAVE MERCY is fast-paced, satisfying, and a terrific beginning to the His Fair Assassin series. The lovely Ismae Rienne bears a terrible scar from her shoulder to her hip, the result of her mother taking herbs meant to terminate pregnancy. Ismae survived only because she is a daughter of Death. At the age of fourteen the convent of St. Mortain shelters her and teachers her how to use her gifts. Three years later she is an assassin, sent to carry out Death's will in the court of Brittany. Far from the convent, she must learn how to interpret her god's will for herself.
Ismae is one cool character. She keeps her head in tough situations and struggles with understanding her own emotions, much less those of others. She's repeatedly warned to trust no one, but she's fairly good at figuring out who to trust on her own.
The other female characters are also terrific. Anne, the duchess, is central to the external conflicts. She must marry in order to gain enough troops keep the French out of Brittany. But most of her suitors are not suitable at all. Robin LaFevers maintains a careful balance between writing capable, intelligent, independent female characters and acknowledging the historical reality that women in the fifteenth century didn't have many options. LaFevers makes what her characters do with their options count.
The male lead, Gavriel Duval, proves to be an excellent match for Ismae. He's less impulsive, preferring to scheme his way out of tough situations, whereas Ismae is more of a steamroller. Delightfully, they fall in love by talking to each other. They respect each other's abilities and values. And what physical contact there is may be slight, but LaFevers makes is sexy.
If you're looking for a terrific fantasy novel, look no further than GRAVE MERCY. Action, romance, humor - it has it all. I even think it will appeal to both fans of character-driven and plot-driven novels. GRAVE MERCY earns the hype.