Sunday, April 01, 2012

Guest Post-- Grave Mercy

I've been getting boxes of ARCS through Baker and Taylor, and some of those I know are not going to be for my middle schoolers. I shared one of these with our Lovely Office Goddess, Amy, and she was kind enough to write this complete review!

Lafevers, Robin. Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Book 1)
This book is one of the reasons that I am most grateful to my favorite librarian, who not only knows what all the kids in the building like to read, but what I like, too. Even better, she shares with me. Doesn’t get much better than that!
Ismae Rienne is seventeen when her father arranges her unwilling marriage to a local farmer in order to be rid of her. She is scarred by the poison given to her mother to ensure a miscarriage. Isame, as the daughter of Death, is immune to poison, however and the scarring is the only result. Discovering this on her wedding day, her new husband literally throws her in the cellar until he can locate a priest to burn her. Spirited out by the local herbwife, Ismae is secretly sent to the convent of St. Mortain, the god of Death. There she is trained by the nuns to be an assassin in service to the country of Brittany and its twelve year old duchess, Anne. Three years later, at the request of one of the duchess’ Privy Council members, Ismae is sent to court. Her assignment – find and dispatch whoever in the Breton court is working to dispose Anne and facilitate the French takeover of Brittany. As is often true at court, no one is exactly as he or she seems. Or are they? As Ismae grows closer to the duchess, and the duchess’ older half brother, she finds herself embroiled in plots to save Anne and in foiling French plots to take over the country.
While you could put this in the hands of one of the more mature eighth graders, it really is aimed at a high school audience. The political intrigue begins building almost immediately and is the driving force behind the action. There is plenty of action; Ismae is an assassin after all. At first I wasn’t sure about an assassin as the main character, but Ismae is a likable and sympathetic character. She has believable and valid reasons for each killing and applies a rather admirable moral code to not only her assignments, but to her dealings with Anne, Duval and the rest of the court. I also found it interesting that the assassins in the book are all part of a religious order. The book is set in 1485 and religion is a large part of people’s lives at that that time and in fact, the religious beliefs of the characters are a natural part of who they are.

The truly intriguing facet of Grave Mercy for me was the political action. Yes, there was romance, as to be expected since a large portion of the plot concerns who and why the duchess should ultimately marry. But the machinations of the various characters to influence her marriage to their choice of candidates or to find a way to have her installed as duchess in her own right, without a husband, are what held my interest. Add some family drama, a rebellion by some of Brittany’s barons and the beginning of a French invasion and there’s a nice little web of intrigue with a few surprises hiding among the strands. LaFevers does a nice job of tying up the plot satisfactorily but there are enough questions left to justify the sequel. And to make me anxious to read it.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Book 1) is due out in stores 4-3-12. Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin Book 2) is due out in spring 2013.

Fantaskey, Beth. Jessica Rules the Dark Side.
Jessica and Lucius are married (read the Wedding Chapters!) and living in Romania. Things aren't starting out well-- even though their marriage is supposed to end an ancient feud, Claudiu, and evil elder is found murdered, and Lucius is blamed for it. Jessica is trying her best to rule the way that her mother would have, but she is besieged by dreams, unable to stomach the violent punishments she and Lucius must hand out, and misses her home and friend Mindy Sue. Since Mindy Sue is flunking out of community college and more than happy to travel to Romania when her vampire-assassin/hunk crush Raniero asks her to, at least Jessica has an ally. Political intrigue swirls, Jessica tries to use more modern research techniques to clear Lucius' name, and the vampire kingdom once again rests on the reluctant vampire queen.
Strengths: My students LOVE Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side and were thinking a sequel would never come out, so they will be thrilled to have this. There's room for another sequel, and Jessica does make some progress towards being a vampire ruler.
Weaknesses: I, too, loved the first book, but just didn't love this one. I was confused that the two were married, annoyed tremendously by Mindy Sue, and didn't feel that Jessica was as strong and snarky as she was in the first book. Granted, love will do that to a person, but I was just a tiny bit disappointed in this.

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