Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1

Violent tale of assassin nun seeking revenge on men.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Teaches kids about the middle ages and culture during that time. Includes true historical events.

Positive messages

Messages about forgiveness and the strength of female bonds.

Positive role models

Although Grave Mercy shows men as power-craving brutes and women as mere objects to be abused (which isn't inconsistent with cultural beliefs during the Middle Ages), the main male character is an honorable, chivalrous man, and Ismae demonstrates an ability to rise above the unfortunate circumstances she was born into, proving her strength and independence.


The main character, Ismae, is physically abused by her father and husband. She becomes an assassin who kills men for revenge. There's an attempted rape, which is Grave Mercy's most disturbing scene. Many battle scenes take place involving swords and daggers. A horse is stabbed and killed.


Some sexual innuendos and references to mistresses. Men are displayed as womanizers who are always lusting after a quick encounter.  


The word "bastard" is used, but only in the literal sense of a child born out of wedlock. 

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Social drinking of wine and beer. Ismae's husband is an alcoholic who's extremely violent when drunk. 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Grave Mercy has many violent scenes that may be too mature for tweens. The opening pages describe the main character, Ismae, almost being raped by her drunken husband. She's also brutally beaten by her father and goes on to become a major assassin. Her victims are dishonorable men for whom she feels no remorse. There are also battle scenes with swords and daggers, and a character's horse is stabbed and killed.

What's the story?

Ismae is a 17-year-old girl who survives her mother's attempt to kill her at birth. Since that day, she's known in her tiny village in Brittany as the daughter of death, a survivor. Ismae spends her life trying to escape the blows of her brutal father and the man he arranged for her to marry. Then, on her wedding night, after suffering another torturous beating, a stranger comes to take Ismae to the convent of St. Mortain, the saint of death. There a group of nuns teaches Ismae the arts of war, intrigue, and persuasion -- all of which she must put to use as an assassin for her country, even if it means killing the man she's falling in love with.

Is it any good?


GRAVE MERCY is a wonderfully written novel that pulls readers into medieval France, specifically Brittany, with descriptive scenes of palaces, towns, and village people. Although the plotline (revenge-seeking woman becomes man killer) will attract some feminists, others may find it a bit overdone.

But the story is entertaining and filled with accurate historical details. The characters are likable and complex, and fans will be glad to know the book ends with the possibility of introducing a love story in the second installment. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the history of the Middle Ages. What were some cultural differences between that time and ours? Do you think Grave Mercy accurately depicts the era?

  • Why are the men in the book portrayed as such bullies?

  • How does Grave Mercy compare with other medieval fantasies?

Book details

Author:Robin LaFevers
Genre:Historical Fiction
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Brothers and sisters, Friendship, History
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Children's Books
Publication date:April 3, 2012
Number of pages:560
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 17

This review of Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1 was written by

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  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 11, 13, and 18 year old Written byAndye March 19, 2014
age 15+


I'm not sure the reviewer has the "sexual content" right....there was quite a bit more than she described. (I'll add it to the end of my review) Ismae was strong, smart, fierce, brave, selfless, and loyal. She had a hard life growing up, so she was a hard person to befriend, but once she trusted you, she would do anything for you. She actually reminded me a lot of Katsa from Graceling. Something I really appreciated about her was her personal character development. She grew and changed a lot during this book, and that’s something I love. This is absolutely my favorite type of romance to read. I mean, yes, we all know that Duval and Ismae are going to end up falling for each other, but it is so awesome to watch it slowly happen. I love it when characters start out with suspicion, and trust issues with each other, and have to work to overcome their prejudices over time. It just adds so much tension, frustration, and eventually satisfaction to a romance. I just couldn’t ask for more! It was almost like taking Katsa from Graceling and Brigan from Fire and watching them fall for each other. Who needs a love triangle when there’s this much tension?! I have to say; there are some that this book won’t appeal to. I thought it was pretty mature for YA, so those looking for a quick or light read won’t find it here. There are also some religious happenings that some might be uncomfortable with, which I’ll add more about in the content review. That being said, if you like high fantasy, historical fiction, court intrigue, fighting, romance, suspense and mystery, I think you’ll love this book. When I finished reading it, I just sat there and sighed and wanted to start reading it again! So, I'd say that if you like this type of book at all, you will definitely love this book. If you've never tried historical fiction, or high fantasy, you should give this one a shot. I seriously loved this book so much! Profanity: Multiple uses of D*mn a** & b*stard used literally (donkey & illegitimate child) Sexual Content: The book opens with her getting married, then her husband orders her to the bedroom where he hits her and tells her to undress. She worries about what it will be like, but when he sees her scars, he beats her instead of sleeping with her. The Sisters teach Ismae how to use her "womanly charms" to distract men so she can kill them. She is dressed provocatively and they talk of putting rouge on her nipples just in case a man gets close enough to see them. There's quite a bit of talk of seducing men in order to do "Death's" bidding. Ismae sometimes acts like she's interested in men sexually in order to kill them. Ismae is thought to be Duval's mistress/lover. Duval's housemaid sees blood on the sheets and assumes that Duval and Ismae are sleeping together. She tells Ismae that it won't always hurt. Ismae and Duval fall in love, and kiss many times. Ismae decides to "lay" with Duval, and is nervous because she has never laid with a man before. They have sex, not descriptive. Violence: Her father is abusive Her husband beats her severely Ismae and the other girls at the convent are trained how to kill men, those whom "Death" has decided should die. Many ways of killing are described. Ismae kills multiple people on the convent's orders, people who are traitors or are trying to kill the queen. Ismae is repeatedly attacked and sometimes wounded. Battles where many are killed, mention of blood and death. Other Ismae was sired by the god of death. The minor gods are called saints, but they are worshiped and prayed to. Ismae is taken in by Nuns in a convent that worship and work for Death. They kill people they believe Death wants them to kill. Ismae can talk to the souls of the dead.
Teen, 13 years old Written byHeq073198 May 23, 2012
age 14+


Y'ALL HAVE TO READ THIS IF YOU ARE READING THIS BOOK. SEXUAL CONTENT IS EXTREMELY PROMINENT. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this book, and it is one of the most time-worthy reads I have ever devoured. BUT readers need to know, seduction is the main element used by the assassins to trick the men so they can get close enough to kill them. Sister Beatriz discusses rouging Ismae's *cough cough* so as to complete her rouse as a coquette noblewoman. Discussion of making a poison that will "make a man's member shrivel and fall off." The tubers and roots used to make this poison are described as looking like said body part. Ismae describes hearing her father at night and calls him "loud". Blood from a wound is seen on sheets by a maid who assumes is Ismae's from her first encounters with intercourse. Ismae "lies with" Duval, and they kiss passionately (with tongue), encounters that are described as "lusty". Ismae sleeps with Duval to absorb poison from him, because she is immune, thus taking it out of him and deluding it to harmlessness. It isn't loveless sex though. The reason Ismae does it is because she loves Duval, and has to save him. She wasn't instructed by the convent to do it, it was of her own accord and decision. So I guess you could say the method in which she saved him had its... perks. My goodness that sounded terrible, but it's true. So this book IS romance. It is not "foreshadowing for the second novel" it is a passionate love story with physical encounters. And the rape scene was not even remotely as disturbing as this review makes it out to be. Violence with minor gore. The horse was not "stabbed and killed", it was a bloodless death to spare her the long agonizing death of poison. The knife used had the power to kill with a simple cut, so that is all that was used. Drinking of wine and men are often drunk. A poison makes a man appear to be in a "wine-sodden sleep". Also, its take on religion is unique. They worship the "saints", whose descriptions remind me of the way the Greek gods were worshiped. This is quite possibly the best book you will ever read, so I highly highly highly highly recommend you read it! Just wanted to give you the heads up that this review failed to do!
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written byMythos_Magic November 16, 2012
age 14+


well, I thought it would a lot better written. there was a lot of unnesssary death. Ismae's father was the one who wanted her dead, not her mother, for reasons never given he draged her mother to herbalist to get Ismae exsplled from the womb. after her mother and sisters die, her father forces her to marry someone only meantioned in the first chapter. she ends up becoming an assassain. after killing 2 people just becase she told too, she is sent with Duval, she still kills just because she told to. after Duval gets poisoned she figures out that she can save him by having sex. :( not what I was looking for. than on top of all the that her saint is her god.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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