Grave Mercy is set in 1485 Brittany, and luckily – thanks to my A-Level qualification in Tudor History – I knew the context of this time. However, even if you don’t know anything about Tudor History, or what was happening in Europe at the time, then Robin LaFevers explains everything as you go! In her acknowledgements at the end of the novel she also gives you a more detailed backstory on what was happening, and I was really surprised that the majority of the characters were based off of real-life figures! Now, my forte is Henry VII, and I knew that Brittany was going to be absorbed by France eventually, you need only look at a modern map to find Brittany isn’t it’s own country anymore – is it a spoiler if it’s a historical fact? – which did sort of take something away as I knew that even though Duchess Anne’s nobility worked hard to ensure he political independence, it doesn’t work out in the long run.
It might seem like a ridiculous thing to want, but I really would’ve liked a bit more information on Henry VII and the HRE, because they were mentioned, but only briefly and their relationships with Britanny I wanted to have been cleared. but anyway, enough about history, let’s talk about the characters.
I loved the first section of Grave Mercy, where were given Ismae’s backstory. It made it easier to slip into the fifteenth century mindset, because even the writing style and the language used seems historically accurate. Ismae was a strong character, and I loved her moral journey of who to trust. I loved being in the convent for that short period of time in the beginning of the novel, and I don’t think I ever got used to being with the nobles. I think this was mostly because I was promised assassin nuns, but what I really got was one assassin nun mingling with a bunch of people with a political agenda. I love a good boarding school type book, so I hope in the sequels that there is more of a focus on the convent itself, rather than just the girls.
Dival is our love interest, and I felt that their relationship developed relatively slowly for my liking, until the end when it was like ‘ohmygosh this romance seems to have come out of no-where.’ I really didn’t want Ismae to fall in love with anyone, I wanted pure assassin awesomeness, for once it would have been nice for our protagonist not to get distracted by love – perhaps Dark Triumph will deliver on that?
One of my only qualms with Grave Mercy was its length. I felt like it dragged on incessantly in the middle, and got rather repetitive. Realistically I don’t think it needed to be over 400 pages at best, so I was delighted to find out that the sequel is significantly shorter. I suppose we can mark the length up to the fact that she needed to pack so much backstory into a short space of time (or long space of time, as it transpired).
I have to say that I didn’t see the plot twist/big reveal coming, so that’s good! The mystery certainly kept me reading in the slower sections, I just wish that their could have been even more action that there was, as the whole assassin thing really was downplayed at times, although we were always reminded that Ismae could kill someone.
Overall, I enjoyed the plot, even thought it was slightly dragged out, and the historical fiction element was definitely a fun one! Reading Grave Mercy made me realise just how much I enjoy historical fiction, and it’s probably my favourite historical fiction book I’ve read. I’d give Grave Mercy 3.5 stars.