Grave Mercy – Dark YA Fantasy
Originally published on Feb 4, 2016, republished as part of the great reclamation and rebuild post tragic incident of perfidious hackage.
To keep my muse happy, I must feed her delicious books that incite the imagination to riotous pleasure. You know the drill. So let me tell you what is pleasing her right now.
It began when I messaged @melirobles on twitter and asked her if she could recommend any books to people who liked This Crumbling Pageant. Why did I ask Melissa in particular? Because I ‘met’ her when she read and reviewed my book, so I knew she could answer. She reads and reviews so many books, if anybody would have a great rec, she would!
“Grave Mercy!” she said.
I slapped my forehead. Because seriously? I read Grave Mercy three years ago and loved it. And somehow… never read the other two books in the series. I was very pleased to be reminded. I downloaded the audiobook from the library and listened to it and enjoyed it all over again. Listening to audiobooks on my iPhone makes loading the dishwasher almost tolerable.
First, from the official blurb:
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Dark, much? Oh yes, this is deliciously dark fantasy. The world-building is an exquisite blend of richly-textured historical fiction and eerily-effective fantasy. The characterization is strong, with Ismae being a despised outcast because she is believed to be the daughter of Death. But she’s also a strong and fiercely loyal young woman learning the ways of the heart at the same time she’s learning the ways of the assassin. . It’s a fascinating break from reality and just what I needed, and what I’m happy to recommend to others who love the occasional dark YA fantasy.
When I was teaching I’d sometimes have students say they wanted to write YA (Young Adult), but they didn’t have any idea what today’s YA fiction is. The first and best advice for YA writers is, “Read today’s YA.” You can’t write for today’s readers unless you know what they are reading, and can provide more.
This is a case in point. “Surely you can’t get away with that in Young Adult!” says someone in shocked tones.
Oh, yes you can. And when Robin LaFevers does it, she does it brilliantly.
There are two more young women in this book whose stories finish out the series. I’m really looking forward to returning to this world. [updated: My reviews of the rest of the trilogy, Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart, will come soon.]
Have you read them? What did you think? What other books have you read that have this kind of dark historical fantasy vibe?
Share the wealth!