Assassin nuns. Yep, that's the phrase that caught my attention. And how could it not? Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is the first in the His Fair Assassin trilogy. A young girl, Ismae, is forced to marry a brute by her abusive father, but when her groom realizes he has been tricked into the marriage, he beats her and leaves her for dead. Ismae is rescued by nuns, but not the kind of nuns you would expect. This is Brittany in 1485 and while the Catholic church is building a larger presence, the people still worship the old saints that have been in their traditions for hundreds of years. Ismae is taken to the convent of St. Mortain, also known as the god of Death. The sisters in the convent serve Death by killing those he wishes dead. Ismae is then trained in all the ways to kill a man including weapons, hand to hand combat and poisons. She is also trained in all that she will need to know to do the Saint's bidding covertly.
I sprinted through this book. The intrigue was fantastic and while I was able to see down the road a little bit, it continued to twist and turn. I have to admit that I was shocked to find out that this is classified as YA. While reading this novel, it never occurred to me that it was intended for a teen audience. The writing was complex and the subject matter not necessarily something I would encourage my teenager to read, but still I enjoyed it. The second book is waiting for me on the library reserve shelf and I'm picking it up tomorrow! Rather than a traditional sequel, the second book follows another of the assassins trained at the convent.
I will leave you with one small quote from Grave Mercy:
Ismae is telling a story to the duchess' young sister and in it she says, "For death is not scary or evil or even unmerciful; it is simply death."