Get to the Point, Book Reviews: Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book I)

This is a regular, but not frequent, blog series entitled Get to the Point, Book Reviews.

Book Review Rules:
1. Get to the point.
– No drawn out hemming and hawing about recommending the book.
– The answer will either be “yes” or “no” followed up with points that are
relevant to the recommendation.

2. Honesty.
– No need for exaggeration or belaboring a point.
– I’m not into trashing authors or their works.

3. No Delving or Deep Diving
– I hate reading reviews where everything about a book is outlined, in which case, I become immediately disinclined to read the book for myself.
– I will leave room for discovery. Character names, situations, plot, etc. may or may not be a point of discussion.

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.


Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book I), by Robin LaFevers

Would I recommend this book?
No (with reservations).

Favorite Quote: “When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.” 

Cringe-worthy Quote: “He blinks, ‘If you are not careful, I will begin to think you are enamored of me.’ At his words, something flutters happily in my breast, pleasure, perhaps.”

The Goods

1. I was immediately enthralled upon opening this book, I had no idea – whatsoever – that I wouldn’t be recommending this novel.

Ismae (cool name) is introduced to us as our heroine and her character is best described as steadfast and sincere. She grew up knowing her biological father was Mortain, the god of Death, and her assumed father did his best to expel her while in the womb, but baby Ismae survived thanks to her innate ability to reject poisons. Intriguing, right?

Ismae’s mother dies sometime after birth and Ismae is left to defend herself from an abusive father-figure who, when Ismae comes of age, marries her off to an equally abusive husband. ‘Great background,’ I’m thinking. I’m hooked as Ismae manages to flee the situation, with the help of others who know of her true paternal origins, and escapes to the Convent of St. Mortain. We are given a great character introduction with the promise of an equally great story to come.

2. The Convent of St. Mortain is a place for training the daughters of Death to become assassins, and more importantly, exercise the god of Death’s will. Super cool and intriguing, right? My first impression of the convent was that of a dark Hogwarts where only girls sired by Mortain are allowed admittance and are trained in the quiet killings: poisons, daggers, garrotes, and more. *Ismae quickly passes three years at the convent before she is given her first assignment.*

3. When Ismae kills in the name of Mortain or the convent, the descriptions are not lost. The character thinks out the method and reasons as to why she would choose one method over the other, and I appreciate that. It lets the audience in on the thought process of assassin-ship, not taking the character thought-process for granted.

The Not So Good

1. *The idea of the Convent of St. Mortain is the most intriguing part of the book and is the least utilized. The author barely touches on the convent, giving you the reader enough to be captivated and then “three years pass” from Ismae’s initial arrival, to leaving for her first assignment as an assassin.* What?

The nuns (the convent’s teachers) are barely described, and like those professors of Hogwarts (as a reference), they each excel in their subjects but with hardly any detail given. You experience no attachment to potentially interesting characters. You’re left wanting more – more description, more detail, more interaction with other characters as Ismae grows and develops as an assassin. But no. It’s more or less, ‘Welcome to this really cool place. You’ll learn to fight, kill, seduce, and poison…now get out there in the name of Mortain!’

2. The love interest is introduced almost immediately upon Ismae’s exit from the convent.

First, a love interest wasn’t needed. I am tired of seeing strong female characters inevitably intertwined with a lesser male character. And for what? Character exploration? Character development? Characters can explore their world and grow within them without immediately being shackled to a love interest. It’s disappointing because it comes across as an obvious (yet tired) method for female characters to move forward in their personalities. Being an abused kid in an isolated village meant Ismae had growing up to do that was safe and under her direction, and she, as a character, became stunted in that development as soon as Duval, the love interest, was introduced. Ismae needed time to stretch her newly formed assassin’s wings, get to know herself better.

Second, the love story was dull and uptight. Further proof that Ismae needed to develop as a character before a love interest was introduced; it’s a three part series, the love thing could have waited. Considering Ismae’s abusive background, I understand the slow pacing of the love story, yet again, this goes back to my opinion that the love story would not have been so tedious had Ismae been allowed to develop throughout the series. I doubt she would have been so skittish and unsure of herself.

Third, the male in question, Duval, didn’t have much personality other than the classic stoic-type. Duval is a critical character to the story but he need not have been written in as Ismae’s lover in order to do his job. Ideally, Ismae and Duval would have come to love each other over time as this is a trilogy.

Fourth, the love angle took up precious story time. Too many words were devoted to something that did not serve the story, like the author had to justify the love aspect by constantly going back to it. I was reading more about Ismae’s and Duval’s ever-growing love than I was about the activities of an assassin or treacherous royal plots.


The potential book 1 had, and I can say series too because I’m reading book 2, is huge. So while I do not recommend Grave Mercy, I am reserved in that opinion because I see what could have been. Grave Mercy is a great lesson to potential FF writers – go all in your world building, or go home. If your MC is supposedly a strong-willed, independent female, ask yourself if your MC really needs to be in love. Maybe she just needs to get laid before taking on her enemies? I don’t know, but at least it’s different. The point is if you want your female MC to stand out, don’t fall for the same romance writing traps.

Because of the potential in book 1, I continued on with book 2, which is a lot smoother as a story.  Each book in the series is presented from a different MC, all briefly introduced as Ismae’s friends and fellow sisters (daughters of Mortain) from book 1. So while Ismae is not the MC of book 2, she is by no means forgotten. Ismae appears regularly; the love story could have been written in at a later time.

Unfortunately, with all it’s potential, Grave Mercy is a FF novel turned romance novel.

Christina Schmidt