Alexis’s #CBR5 Review #3, Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers

gravemercyGrave Mercy is a book about a convent of trained assassins. That’s not a typo – this is a book about killer nuns.

Ismae is a 17 year old beet farmer whose father is only slightly less horrendous than the brute he marries her to. Luckily after being locked in a root cellar she is rescued by a priest who spirits her away to the convent of St. Mortain, patron saint of death.

So by page 5 Ismae is now being tutored as an assassin nun. Which seems like a pretty juvenile concept unless you’re knee-deep into winter in Vermont and desperately want any sort of escapist adventure that will help you forget for 5 seconds just how cold and grey that it’s been FOREVER. Now….where was I?

So Ismae is a killer nun. We don’t hear much about her training but are told that she is highly competent and her specialty is poison. Don’t forget this fact – it’ll come into play later.

In no time Ismae is sent to court of the Duchess of Brittany to find an evil French mole. She is posing as the paramour of the brilliant and passionate Gavriel Duval and quickly becomes attracted to his dark intensity. But what is he is the mole? Then she receives orders from the convent that she is to kill Gavriel! Oh no, now somebody has POISONED Gavriel but who? And how can she, a master of poison, ever hope to counter the effects of this horrible deed? SPOILER ALERT: She kisses the poison out of him. It’s like he had a bad case of morning breath and she had a fresh piece of gum in her mouth and they just made out until the effects of his terrible halitosis was neutralized by her Juicy Fruit. [FACEPALM]

Look Ms. LaFevers,

Killer nuns is a cool idea. This is only the first of many killer nun books you will write (aside: book #2 is scheduled for release in April). If you want to throw in a bit of romance, go for it. It worked like gangbusters for Ms. Meyers so why shouldn’t it work for you too? But let me whip out my intro to writing text book and share a few points that may be helpful in developing your writing career:

  • If you’re going to put the quote, “Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?” with a picture of a girl with a crossbow on the cover and repeatedly TELL us what a skillful assassin she is, then you also need to actually include some assassinations in your story. Or to be brief – your killer nuns would be much more interesting if they actually KILLED PEOPLE.
  • Like you, I also have a hard time writing dialogue and try to cover for my lack of skill with far too much exposition. However unlike you I am not a published author. Also a single spoken sentence is not dialogue. Dialogue involves 2+ people talking about things meaningful things (not the weather or how one has slept).
  • If you want to have your killer nuns falling in love that’s great. I love a bit of romance. Romance is developed through dialogue (see point above) and the two characters overcoming some obstacle to being together. Ismae and Gavriel spent little time together, when they did they barely spoke, and the only barrier to them hooking up was actually spending enough time in the same room to get it on.
  • Go to the library and pick any writing book. Invariably this book will contain a chapter titled something like, “Show don’t tell.” I know – this is hard to do. But you can’t keep telling us about how everybody is feeling about everything that is happening. Which brings me to…
  • Things need to happen. 100+ pages of quiet dinners, games of chess, and changing clothes does not a great assassin nun book make. Which brings me to…
  • If you’re writing assassin nun books then make the focus about nuns who are assassinating people. You tried to get too much into court intrigue which was both dull and irrelevant. Philippa Gregory can write fantastic court intrigue, but probably couldn’t write a nun assassin book to save her life. We each have our own gifts. (Aside: Philippa Gregory could probably write an AMAZING nun assassin book.)
  • Your assassin nuns have mystical powers. They didn’t really need them (the story would work – or not as the case may be – without those mystical powers). But if you’re going to give them mystical powers then make those mystical powers a) interesting and b) germane to the story. For example Harry Potter is a magician and his ability to do magic is absolutely crucial to the whole series. See how cool it can be?

Killer nuns. Seemed like a fun idea, but it wasn’t. Don’t be fooled by the high rankings on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Trust me on this one.

4 thoughts on “Alexis’s #CBR5 Review #3, Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers

  1. I’m about halfway through this one and am enjoying it quite a bit – although I agree, I really would have liked to have seen between her arriving at the convent and that “3 years later” jump.

    • Based on Amazon I’m a bit of an outlier in my non-love of Grave Mercy. I think I had high expectations (killer nuns = fun right?) so it’s not so much of a “bad” book but I went into it thinking that there would be more killing and less chess playing.

      • Yeah I totally understand; I had had it on my list for a long time but had forgotten what it was about so I kind of went in blank slate (since I was too lazy to click over to Amazon and refresh my memory on what it was about)

  2. Being that I highly respect Alexis’s opinions and there is only limited time in my life to read the millions of brilliant literary works, I will NOT be reading this Grave Mercy. I did, though, get many chuckles out of reading Alexis’s account of it. And, Even Stevens, I’m glad to hear another opinion, because I don’t always have to follow Alexis as I would a goddess 😉
    At least I’m FINALLY reading the Dune series, about 20 years later than I should be, and it is indeed excellent so far.

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