Science fiction and fantasy
by Robin Lafevers
She's sent out on a mission to protect the young duchess Anne, and to eliminate any traitors that surround her. Ismae is obliged to team up with the tall and soldierly Gavriel Duval, a man she doesn't trust. But Gavriel doesn't appear to carry Mortain's marque, which is the sign Ismae uses to determine whether someone's time is up and she's free to punish them. However that doesn't the marque isn't on him, perhaps hidden by clothes, so she watches him closely for signs of treachery.
The Breton court is full of factions competing for Anne's hand in marriage and a stake in her throne. Ismae has to navigate these courtly power plays and it's full of stories she doesn't know, so she can't do it without assistance. It's a far cry from the life of a turnip farmer's daughter, or even from sheltered convent life, and sometimes the pretence of being a courtier stretches all her acting skills.
The story is engaging and varied, especially when Ismae starts to question some of the assumptions she's made about the path she's chosen. There's a strong romantic thread, but it's very obvious right from the stereotypical bad first impressions and initial mutual antagonism how it's going to play out. However the mystery of who is plotting against Anne is anything but clear-cut, and later on Ismae gets plenty of chances to put her badass training to use. It's a slow-boil romance contrasted with an exciting, action-packed intrigue which tends to be told in breathless, clipped sentences whenever things get hectic.
I didn't really understand the god Mortain's involvement in human affairs. He might not want another religion to take over in Brittany, but why would a deity of death be overly concerned with protecting anyone and saving lives? The supernatural aspects work as a peg to hang all of the action off though, and it's an original and fresh imagining. And best of all, Grave Mercy was a story I could really get into and I was reluctant to put down when it finished.
9th April 2012
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