GRAVE MERCY was one of the first books I ever requested to review. It struck the kick butt girl chord in me, so I was like, “Let’s do this!” And I received it and I squeed and danced, but that’s a different story. It took me a few months to get around to reading it, but when I finally did, let me just say one thing.It blew me away. And it kicked some serious ass.The story of Ismae, a girl sold off by her stepfather to become an abusive man’s wife before being rescued and shipped to a convent of nuns serving the old Saint Mortain, the patron of death, GRAVE MERCY is the first in a new trilogy by author Robin LaFevers. Ismae is trained to become one of death’s handmaidens, an assassin with every tool imaginable at her disposal. When the Duchy of Brittany is threatened by the encroachment of the French, and by the barons inhabiting the land now ruled by a young girl, Ismae is put into the service of the handsome bastard of the dead duke, Gavriel Duval, in order to uncover the traitors, liars, and secrets in the Court of Brittany.Ismae is a wonderful heroine, and one that I wish I saw more of in young adult fiction. Although there is a romance, she is a girl that can stand on her own, saving the men in her life. She has been hurt by her stepfather and by her husband, meaning that she has plenty of realistic issues in pursuing a real relationship. She is believable and I connected with her almost immediately. I mean, come on, she has a trunk full of bad a$$ items – tons of poisons (including poison candles), knives that can kill with just a scratch, jewelry that turns into a garrote. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend takes on a new meaning around her.Although her narrative, and the writing style of the book as a whole (the book is told in first person present tense), is hard to initially get into, after 100 pages you are glued to this story and letting go is impossible. For example, “Surely He does not give us hearts so we may spend our lives ignoring them.” The writing lacks contractions for the most part, as is fitting of a historical novel, so yeah, modern readers who like their contractions might be a bit weirded out. Do not worry. You will get used to it.I’ve seen several books the past few years tackle the historical fantasy-esque vibe that GRAVE MERCY successfully navigates. Especially now that Game of Thrones is extremely popular, even among teenage viewers, there is no doubting that there has been a rise in fantasy stories and historical stories that have the same vibe as Game of Thrones. While this story only has a semblance of fantastical elements, particularly in a crow that acts like Harry Potter’s beloved owl Hedwig, this story successfully mixes the intrigue of Game of Thrones with real historical events and a true romance.The characterizations could have been better. I wanted to know more about many of the characters inhabiting this world, like their motivations to do what they were doing. Duchess Anne was little more in my opinion than a little girl who wanted nothing more to stay alive, but there could have been a lot more there. I hope we see more of her and her true feelings and aspirations in the sequel. This book was almost 550 pages long, but trust me, you’ll never notice it. The book flies by with consistent pacing that pulls you along, and for many people, this will be a book that they will finish in less than a day.This book isn’t perfect. There are dull parts and a romance that falls flat. But I rarely rate based on the literary merits of a novel. This book is beautifully written and the work of a skilled author. Robin LaFevers has set the stage for what promises to be a great trilogy, and I cannot wait to dig into the next two books. This book is one of my favorites of the year.VERDICT: With courtly intrigue, a strong heroine, and a beautiful story mixed into a historical package wrapped in a ribbon of poison, GRAVE MERCY is truly a great novel and great start to a new series that I cannot wait to delve into more.