Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads: Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
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.
Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly 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?
My take: I love a good historical novel and this one qualifies as just that. It's a time period I'm not familiar with and a historical character I didn't know, Anne of Brittany. I found Wikipedia to be helpful for understanding the geography and political pulse, although the book does an excellent job of doing just that. Brittany occupied the Western portion of Europe at this time. France desperately wanted the land and Anne was a political pawn in securing power at the time. She was promised to many men to marry in exchange for their armies. Intriguingly, the main character and point of view is not told by Anne of Brittany but the daughter of a beet farmer, Ismae.
Aside from politics, religion was undergoing much change. Ismae is part of a convent under the demi-god or god (depending on who you ask), Death. The interpretation of being a nun of Death is to be trained to be an assassin then when Mortaine, Death makes his will known, someone is assassinated. The girls are trained in flirtation, court politics, and the many hundreds of ways to kill a person. Ismae is sent as a spy to the court of the Duchess and kill whoever bore the marque or she was ordered to kill. Yet it is clear there is a traitor among the Duchess' closest advisers. That was the mystery. I truly did not know who the traitor was until Ismae figured it out.
Then there is a very nice romance. Gavriel is the perfect love interest and their relationship is perfectly paced for a first book. Also, historically speaking, the story gives a fair snapshot of the treatment of women in this time period. They were not people but instruments. They had no rights and were treated as property. Even the very powerful Duchess was not so very powerful after all. Her options were greatly limited.
I look forward to the next book!