Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Disclaimer: At the ALA conference, I managed to snag an advance reading copy of Mortal Heart, the third one in this series. At the time I didn't know it was the third one. When I got home and started receiving/sorting through all my books. I was compelled to get the first two in the series. I have no regrets.
Grave Mercy got off to a bit of a rough start for me. There was about fifteen pages of back story before a leap over the intense training portion of becoming a handmaiden of death. There were a couple points where the timeline seemed to get a bit muddled in the beginning, but I powered through and was greatly rewarded.
An amazon summary, ""Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion. . . . LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy. A page-turner—with grace." --Kirkus Reviews, starred review Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage to the respite of the convent of St. Mortain. Here she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts and a violent destiny. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. But how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who has stolen her heart?" AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE
Ismae has been pledged to a brute by her abusive father. There are allusions to how much control her father had over her life, and how marrying the brute might save her from a worse fate of remaining with her father. As soon as the wedding is over, Ismae is escorted upstairs to consummate the marriage, but her brute of a husband sees the vicious scar trailing down her back. He casts her into the basement as she has been marked as one of Mortain's (who is the god of death). Ismae nurses her injuries and falls into a light sleep, waiting for whatever fresh horrors her husband may bring.
An herbwitch opens the door to her prison and gets Ismae out of there. She sets Ismae off on a long journey to reach the convent of Mortain where Ismae will be looked after. Ismae encounters a few key characters when she first arrives at the convent; among them are the abbess of the convent, Sybella, and Annith. Ismae is sat down by the abbess who explains what the convent is/does, Ismae pledges to Mortain (the convent), and starts training to be an assassin.
There is a hint that time has passed, Ismae has completed her training, but the duchy of Britany finds itself in need of an assassin, and Lord Duval must be watched. Ismae is sent out to watch over his actions while posing as a mistress under the orders to kill him if she discovers treason.
Ismae and Duval frequently fight, but it's Duval that starts to show Ismae that the world isn't all that the convent has led her to believe.
There's a lot of political intrigue at play here and the author notes that she based a lot of the writing on a historical event, but took creative liberties with it. I would dub this a 'historical romantic fiction' if I had to nude it into some category.
So I wish I could champion this book as a display of feminine power, but really it's more of a triumph of Ismae. There is so much that she learns and insecurities that she overcomes that's heart warming to watch. However, I've been having an argument with myself about this book for about a week. So here goes.
On the one hand, Ismae tends to act 'girly' and 'feminine' when she is trying to use her body or demeanor to get information.
On the other hand, this could be a way that Ismae is using her environment to benefit her greater actions. It's easier to work within societal norms and let the people think you're a simpleton if you're a trained assassin after information.
So I took a step back and looked at the Duchess; the woman with clearly a lot of power in the book.
On the one hand, the Duchess is treated like a child by most of her council. She is thirteen years old and a lot of her suitors try to overcome her by being boisterous, obnoxious, and 'throwing their weight around' if you will.
On the other hand, the Duchess acts for the benefit of her people in most of her decisions. She is the ideal ruler who was dealt an awful situation. The Duchess has a lot of personal strength that I don't think belongs to a gender, but is rather a true character trait.
So I took one step back again and looked at Duval; the brother of the Duchess.
On the one hand, Duval treats Ismae as if she constantly needs to be looked after and is always dragging her away from social situations that seem unwise.
On the other hand, Duval respects the Duchess and tries to shelter her and protect her almost at all costs. Ismae is a little unwise with her court dealings because she is so 'green' to the world of high court. Many times Duval escorts her away it has saved her from a misfortune or potentially being exposed as an assassin.
.....yeah, I think a lot.
Perhaps the better answer to the question, "Is this a feminist book?" is to ask a better question, "Does this book celebrate character individuality?" YES. YES IT DOES. I think it champions more of the strengths of each character rather than restrict itself to the notion of what a man/woman should do.
That being said, this book was littered with fantastic characters that were very memorable.