Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Blurb on Goodreads: 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.
Going into this book the only thing I knew what that it contained assassin nuns. And really, what else do you need? Of course there´s much more than that. The main character is Ismae, a young woman, teenager?, in what I´m guessing is the 14th or 15t century. Her abusive father has forced her to marry a real jerk but she is rescued right before she has to suffer through the first night as a married woman. She is rescued and is brought to a convent which she joins. These are no ordinary nuns however they execute the will of their God Mortain in a most unusual way; whomever he marks shall be killed by the nuns. Treason against him or the country is punishable by death. Ismae and the other women at the convent are trained as Deaths Handmaidens and taught all manner of ways in how to kill a man, be it with poison or swords. They are given all kinds of cool gadgets that they can use to kill people with. Ismae has a bracelet that contains thin wire so she can garotte men who dare to venture into her web. How cool is that!
After two successfull outings Ismae is given or most difficult challenge; to pose as Duvals mistress in order to flush out a traitor to the crown. For being an assassin she did very little killing on the actual assignment. There was plenty of intrigue and a little danger when she and Duval try to unravel the conspiracies in the royal court with an invasion looming on the horizon.
I really like how the friendship and trust between Ismae and Duval grew gradually. They were both strong, stubborn individuals who didn´t really trust the other at first. Everybody else assumes they are lovers when, at first, they can barely stand each other. I found this little sentence particularly funny; “I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face…”
The author inserted small olden day words or expressions now and then, for example when Ismae is brought her tray of food in the morning it states “bringing me a tray so I may break my fast” so now we know where that word came from! She also uses the word mayhap instead of perhaps. I have mixed feelings about this, while fun it does seem odd to me. Why those words? Why not use olden day words all the time (of course they wouldn´t do that). I guess I long for some consistency, one or two olden day words inserted here and there just seem odd to me. But that´s a small detail in a whole that is otherwise very good!