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Monday, January 20, 2014

“Grave Mercy” and “Dark Triumph” by Robin LaFevers (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

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This is a joint review of the first two books in Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassin trilogy, Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph. It will be short, because there's only so much I can say without spoiling one or both of them for you. Both of these books are stories I did not know I had been waiting for until I stumbled across them, and they hit every note perfectly.

Let me begin by saying this is a series about assassin nuns in medieval France.

That may sound far-fetched, but LaFevers has done an incredible job with research and world-building, and she makes that premise completely plausible.

Each book is told from a different POV, and we are deep inside each character's head. In the first, Ismae's quietness touched me: the girl who would be overlooked but has so much inside of her. This is the introvert who saves the day without having to compromise herself, which is something we don't see enough.

But then I loved, loved Sybella's anger. It's not just temper: she burns. Unapologetically wrathful heroines are possibly even rarer. She's not psychotic, but she's also not ashamed that she enjoys fighting — and winning — and isn't bothered that it isn't “ladylike.”

These are two very different protagonists, each terribly compelling with terrible choices to navigate. Each goes from having no control in their life, to believing they have no control, to knowing better, struggling, and making their agency matter. These are girls who think they're broken yet prove otherwise beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph are YA historical fantasy books, but really they could be marketed as adult novels just as easily. They do each have a strong romantic subplot. One of the things I liked best about those is that physical beauty is a non-issue in the heroes' characterizations: neither the women nor their love interests' looks are relevant to their attractiveness. I wish I could say more about this here, but this is a spoiler-free zone, so you will have to read the books to see what I mean.

I stumbled across the first one, read it in hours, and promptly picked up the second one and inhaled it too seriously, read the ending of the first and I dare you not to run for the sequel.

This series is at once heart-wrenching and inspiring. I can't adequately express how much I adored them.


Maja (The Nocturnal Library) said...

This is a favorite of mine too! Robin does a wonderful job of combining historical facts and excellent fiction and her characters are always so well built! I loved both these heroines, although in different ways, and I can't wait to read Annith's story.

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