Robin LaFevers


His Fair Assassin: Grave Mercy (2012)


His Fair Assassin


Grave Mercy (2012)

grave-mercyIsmae Rienne has been sired by Mortain, death himself. At the age of fourteen she is wed to a pig farmer who, upon discovering the scars upon her body, beats her and locks up her to be burned or drowned by a priest the next day. But the local hedge witch and priest help her escape to the convent or Moratain, where she is to be trained as one of Mortain’s nuns–an assassin.

At the age of seventeen, she is sent out to fulfill Mortain’s will, only his will and wishes are not always as she was taught to believe and expect.

A few weeks ago, a friend was complaining about not being able to find enough adventure books for her daughter, where the main character was a girl, rather than a boy. A bunch of us listed off a bunch of book, and this can definitely be added to the list, although for older girls.

Ismae does not need to be saved. Instead, she saves herself and those she cares for, and after her brutal wedding, learns to defend and care for herself.

Although Brittany was a Duchy in the 15th century, I’m not sure about the historical accuracy of the story, but I will note that unlike some historical fantasies for adults, this one does feel relatively true to its time, albeit in a way written to be accessible to younger readers.

For example, the Duchess’s position in the world seems like a one of a princess that many young girls would dream of, but the reality for girls and women was quite different from the Disnefied dream:

I am struck by how few choices she has for all that she is a duchess.

There is romance here, but romance is not the primary element of the story. Instead, Ismae works to protect the Duchess of Brittany and find who has been betraying her.

I quite enjoyed the writing. Some of the insults in particular feel accurate to the time, but comprehensible to younger readers.

“As always, your presence leaves me speechless, madame.” “Would that were so,” she mutters.

Although I guessed early on who the “bad guy” was, I particularly liked the way she worked to make his betrayal make sense in that time.

SPOILER (rot13)

“Sbhe fbaf, Tnievry. V unir ybfg sbhe fbaf gb guvf arire-raqvat jne jvgu gur Serapu. Naq sbe jung? Fb gurl pna ghea nebhaq naq vainqr bhe obeqref bapr ntnva? Va gur raq, qb lbh ernyyl guvax vg znggref gb gur crbcyr jub ehyrf bire gurz? Qb lbh ernyyl guvax znvagnvavat Oevggnal’f vaqrcraqrapr vf zber vzcbegnag gb gurve yvirf naq cebfcrevgl guna raqvat gur pbafgnag jne?”

Creuncf gung jba’g jbex sbe lbhatre ernqref, ohg nf n tebjahc jvgu avrprf naq arcurjf, V pna haqrefgnaq.


This is also the first book in a trilogy, but although I can see the plot for the second book, and there was a major thread left hanging, it wasn’t a focal point, and written in such a way that you might miss it if you weren’t paying particular attention.

Which is, IMO, a good way to do things.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children