Le sigh

Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers

I get this is a young adult book, but honestly if the main character is an assassin there should be more killing, you know more assassinating.


                And that’s complaint one.


                Grave Mercy is an interesting idea – take an alternative medieval Brittany, add assassin nuns (or quasi nuns, they’re allowed to seduce men), and a little romance.  What could go wrong?


                Well, there could be less talking and more killing.  Honestly, I don’t mind talking if it advances the plot but it really doesn’t seem to.  And let me say here, that will this review will be largely negative, the writing is sound and I did finish it.  Even though I could figure out the big reveal, I was never tempted to walk away from the book.


                LaFevers gets full points for, at times, reflecting on the role of women in the medieval ages.  Isme, the almost nun assassin, becomes what she is due to the role of women of the time.  Several times, during the book there is an indication that Anne, the duchess who Isme is to protect, is restricted in what she does because of her gender.  This is all good.  It is therefore a shame that it gets undermined by the standard – girl meets boy and questions her job/employer plot that pops up.  Isme does not question the convent until the man she has feelings for (and the romance is very unromantic) makes her.  This gives it a feel of “women get wrong until a man tells them otherwise” to it.  While there is much to be said against a culture of having one gender superior to another, the convent really isn’t a culture where women are superior to men.  There are no men because that is the way the male dominated church works it, and even though the convent isn’t really the Catholic Church it does seem to be sanctioned by it in such a way.  Furthermore, they nuns work with men, and the men have all the real power in the book.  This is fine because it historical fantasy after all, but if you are going to focus on the evils of two societies each of which has a different superior gender, than you should make sure they are both, in fact, in that socially superior role.  Isme’s change of heart seems due to lust more than anything else.


                And why are the other women in the book by and large (1) evil (2) stupid (3) helpless or (4) looked down upon by Isme?  We are back to the trope of only one good woman.  But wait, I can hear you say, what about Isme’s finds at the convent?  Well, most of the book takes place outside of the convent, so that answers that question.  Isme has more interaction with men than women, including the other nun assassin who is in the area.  While Duchess Anne isn’t weak, she is the woman Isme most save.  It’s strange really, the other strong women are put into villain and quasi villain roles.


                And I’m sorry; the power of giving herself to a man to flush out poison is just at once annoying and okay.  It’s annoying because it just seems like a plot point to get the characters in bed, but to be honest; I sorta liked the inversion of a common Hawthorne theme.


                I just thought there would be kicking of ass and slitting of throats.