Killer Nuns (or the Daughters of Death): Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

I was poised to love Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. One of the blurbs on the back said feminists will love it. It’s about a daughter born to Death trained to be an assassin by a convent of 15th century nuns. Cool concept. Plus, I’d heard Ismae was as kick ass as Katsa from Graceling (which I loved). 

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

The blurb has a good hook, right?

My first thought was that this book was entirely too long. This was not a story that you needed 549 pages to tell. The political intrigue of the plot meandered unnecessarily (And I like political intrigue. I have a poli sci degree, after all.)  I’d have cut down on that and had more battles. Or at least assassinations. I’m not usually one to shy away from long books—usually I don’t want them to end—but I could have cut 100 pages out of this and still been satisfied.

The story starts off with a bang. For the first two chapters, I was pausing to read sentences aloud to Mister BS. The writing is strong in places. But the story also drags in the middle.

The romance felt a bit forced. In my opinion, Ismae was too aware too early of her feelings for Gavriel. And Gavriel was too good. I wanted him to have a dark side (or at least a hint of one), but he was unfailing to the end. Not believable. While the intimate scenes were well-rendered and had tension initially, my heart wasn’t fluttering. I wasn’t wondering if they were going to end up together. I knew it, so there was no suspense.

Anne, the twelve-year-old Duchess, doesn’t seem twelve at all. Sure, age was different in the 1400s…but not that different. She speaks and acts like an adult.

My favorite part was when Ismae tells a story to Anne’s younger sister. This is where LaFevers fairy tale style shines. Mortain, the god/saint of death Ismae serves, was walking and came upon two twin sisters (also gods). One he falls immediately in love with and the other is skeptical and jealous and shoots Mortain through the heart with her arrow to protect her sister. Mortain thanks her for reminding him that there is always a cost to love. What Ismae does not relate is the true ending—the fallout, the tragedy. Because happy endings really are all about when you choose to pull the curtain and proclaim it “the end”. This scene is what bumped it from 3 to 3.5 stars for me.

I enjoyed this book, and will check out the next installment. I loved the blend of historical and fantasy, and am going to be checking out other similar titles, so if you have any suggestions, let me know!

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