I am at a loss as to where to begin my review of Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers. I usually start with what I loved about the book, but in this case, that is a resounding EVERYTHING. I am honestly afraid that in trying to review it, I will not do it justice. Inside this book I found everything I love, a medieval royal court, lots of intrigue, a bit of mysticism, a bit of romance, a hero that is above the run of the mill, and a heroine that kicks butt.
To begin with, the backdrop for the novel is the duchy of Brittany in the late 1400s. At that time, the last duke of Brittany had died, leaving the duchy to his twelve year old daughter, who for political reasons has been promised in marriage to just about every Kind in Europe, including the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of France, and the King of England. The situation that she finds herself in makes her the perfect damsel in distress. And she is not even the main character of the story, just one of the myriad of well developed and intensely interesting background characters.
The heroine of the book, Ismae, is one of the best characters I have found in quite a while. Taught to be an assassin by a group of nuns, she is a take charge, kick ass sort of heroine. Set in a time when women were not taken very seriously, to fashion a group of assassin out of a group of, not only women, but nuns, is in my mind, one of the best devices used in a novel by any author I have read lately. I love this out of the ordinary spin that LaFevers gives this book.
On the other hand, the hero in the book is the epitome of the chivalrous knight. True to his beliefs and his crown, loaded with integrity, but not afraid to get the job done. As such, Gavriel is a winner in the hero category.
Perhaps the best part of the book, though, is the plot. The author has captured the political intrigue of a Royal court in this time period perfectly. The tale she weaves contain the perfect amount of machinations, backstabbing, everyone out for their own gain type of feeling that one would expect. As the story progresses, the reader becomes aware that there is definitely more going on than meets the eye. It is the way that the author continually reveals details and unfolds events that lure the reader in until they are turning pages and not able to put the book down.
As R.L. LaFevers is a new author to me, I did a bit of research on her after I completed the book. I was surprised to find that she is the author of many popular children's books. According to her website, this is her first foray into writing for the YA audience. All I have to say is, I am not a Young Adult by any stretch of the imagination, but I LOVED this book and am anxiously awaiting the next book in the series. With that in mind, I think this author has made the transition to YA astoundingly well, and will even have a large adult audience for these books.
This one is a five star and highly recommended.