This is a fascinating tale of the deadly struggle for thrones, of courts, betrayal, love, death and war.
Ismae is the Handmaiden of one of the old gods of Belgium, the God of Death, Mortain, or rather Saint Mortain as this god is now called within the church's panoply of saints. Ismae is an assassin for her god. A god who places his marque on those assigned to die. Mortain determines who will live and who will die, Ismae carries out her god's will. But will Ismae follow her heart or her god?
Ismae escapes an unbearable situation by entering the Convent of St Mortain. Here she finds her place, and joyfully accepts her new life.
After her training she is sent on a mission by her Abbess to the court of Duchess Anne of Belgium. The young Duchess is beset on all sides, by a chancy Privy Council, by a dastardly suitor and by the French who want to annexe Belgium. Woven with depth and dexterity plot and counterplots have the young Anne pulled at by an unrelenting yet dithering council all bound by the intricate knots of a traitor within.
Anne's half brother, the bastard brother Duval, is the one Anne trusts, and yet Ismae has been sent by the convent to investigate Duval as the traitor. A traitor for whom there can be only one outcome. However, as she observes the interplay of relationships around the young Duchess, Ismae is puzzled by various facts that fly in the face of this supposition.
This is a story of crowns, of love, and of two young, yet different women finding themselves.
Never is the title, 'Grave Mercy,' so cleverly pregnant with meaning as after the battle when Ismae searches amongst the fallen for her comrades. This is a moment of revelation for Ismae and the reader. As Ismae says, 'This is what I want to be. An instrument of mercy not vengeance.'
The idea of balance between justice and mercy is overwhelming. Ismae is forced to confront all that she has previously adhered to.
After reading this, high on my list of too reads will be the next book in the series, Dark Triumph.
A NetGalley ARC