At 14, Ismae Rienne is already badass. She just doesn’t know it yet.
But how could she? She’s grown up knowing that her mother didn’t want her—the scarring on her body proves that her mother took poison in an attempt to abort her—and abused by her father. She’s just been sold into a bad marriage to a bad man. She has no real options and no real future.
Read Bookshelves of Doom on the great SF book for teens, 'Obsidian Blade.'
Ismae knows all this, but she still has fire. She smiles at her wedding to convince her father that she’s pleased—nothing makes him more angry than her happiness—and when her new husband proves to be as brutish as she’d feared, she fights him tooth and nail. She knows she’ll lose, but she fights nonetheless. Like I said: badass.
But then, a miracle! She is spirited out of her husband’s hovel and across Brittany by a secret network of hedge priests and herbwives to the convent of St. Mortain: the patron saint of death. She doesn’t know the hows or the whys, but she’s grateful.
Three years later, Ismae Rienne knows that she’s badass. In addition to her natural immunity to poison, to her superfast healing and her ability to sense any impending deaths in her vicinity, she’s now been trained in combat, brewing poison and even (somewhat) in the social graces. She knows hundreds—maybe thousands—of ways to kill, and she’s both eager and willing to start using them in the service of Mortain. She’s no longer Ismae Rienne, daughter of a turnip farmer. Now she’s Ismae Rienne, handmaiden to Death.
For reals, guys. I don’t know why I’m even still here talking about Grave Mercy. All I want to do is go and read it again. I loved it so much that I just treated—he’d probably say “treated”—my husband to a long-winded list of all of Ismae’s most awesomely awesome moments. Of which there were many. (I didn’t tell him about all of the swoony parts though. He’d have really glazed over if I launched into a squee-fest about the fabulosity of Robin LaFevers’ inversion of the classic Heroine-Tends-the-Hero’s-Wounds scene.)
Grave Mercy is a whiz-bang of a read, and it plays with genre conventions without ever being too self-aware or at all smirky. If you’re at all interested in historical/adventure/romances, you should definitely give it a try. However. It’s a must-read if:
You are a Buffy fan. Especially if you have a soft spot for the episodes in which Our Buff has to fight her way to the prom (or Homecoming) while wearing her pretty, pretty dress. Ismae wears pretty, pretty dresses all day, every day, and she has more weapons hidden on her person—often including, yes, a crossbow, and even poisoned pearls in her hairnet!—than you’d think would be strictly necessary on a battlefield, let alone at a royal court.
You are waiting, waiting, waiting for the next Thief Errant book. Fantasy that feels like historical fiction with undertones of mystery? Check. Strong world-building with a complex religious structure? Check. A low-born heroine who is suddenly thrust into high society? Check. Swoonypants romance? Check.
You are a Megan Whalen Turner fangirl. Yeah, that’s right. I brought out the big guns. Like the Queen’s Thief series, Grave Mercy features a young female ruler whose land is coveted by her more powerful neighbors, a whole lot of political intrigue, and the gods take an active role. Like Turner, LaFevers clearly has a respect for her audience: she drops us into Ismae’s world and lets us figure it all out on our own.
Go! Put it on hold, order a copy, ask a friend if you can borrow it! Just be sure not to miss it. And when it gets made into a movie—I will weep if it doesn’t—I’ll see you there on opening night.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.