Grave Mercy is an example of a YA version of ‘magical realism’; a story set in a firm historical middle ages milieu but with a subtle paranormal underpinning. The supernatural doesn’t supersede or change history, which I liked. But a somewhat flat plot and characters lacking depth or nuances made this somewhat of a tedios read for me. I think many will justifiable like the His Fair Assassin series: it flows smoothly and the main character is feisty and relatable. But there was far too much tell instead of show and it also felt strangely anachronistic. It takes a lot of suspension of disbelief.
Story: In medieval era France, Ismae is marked at birth as a disciple of Mortain, the god of death. She escapes a horrific situation with her peasant family and takes up vows as a nun of Mortain. This involves learning all the ways to deal death; for the nuns look for Mortain’s mark on people and then enact his will by executing those people. When Ismae becomes embroiled in the politics of France, Brittany, and Normandy, she will become attached to the bastard of a throne and help him save his sister from a terrible fate.
The book is gently written in a fairly passive voice. This is a three part series, each book featuring the story of one of the nuns. Not surprisingly, all three nuns are outspoken, independent, and far more likely to act unnecessarily, imprudently, or just plain dangerously in order for the author to make them relatable to the modern reader. It doesn’t make a lot of sense within the medieval period and that is why I kept wishing the author had just made this a straight fantasy.
The court politics was, honestly, a bit silly. The characters lacked even basic self preservation skills and broadcast nearly all their actions in a way that would have been suicide at any court. No one ever played ‘the game’ in any way more than just the most superficial. That choice to focus on Ismae’s feelings and actions rather than intelligence and ingenuity made this a tough slog for me. A rather bland and hotheaded love interest who spends most of the book jealous rather than being mindful of his precarious situation didn’t help.
As noted earlier, I think many will like this book because it is decently written and an easy read. The author has a smooth style that flows well. For me, though, it didn’t work as well as I had hoped.
Reviewed from an ecopy provided by the publisher.