Book Vs. Movie: One Corpse Too Many

Monday, April 30, 2012

One Corpse Too Many (The Cadfael Chronicles, Book Two)
Ellis Peters, 1979

Cadfael, Episode One: One Corpse Too Many

This is a fun book, and a fantastic adaptation. I had just gotten to this volume when the first season of Cadfael adaptations appeared on Netflix, so I wanted to talk about both.

Premise: The quiet life of Shrewsbury is interrupted when the front line of the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud arrives in the town. Between battles, escaping rebels, hidden treasures and aspiring romances, for a while it seems the only person who cares about finding the killer of a mysteriously murdered young man is Brother Cadfael.

I didn't love this book as wholeheartedly as I did the first volume, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. Cadfael runs up against Hugh Beringer, a younger man who may be as clever as he is, and the two spend most of the book trying to outwit each other and decode each other's motives. I adored Godric/Godith, a young woman hiding out in the abbey, and Cadfael's unquestioning support for her plight. The addition of a love story on both sides of the civil war is quite nice and fun to follow, and all the supporting characters are passionate about their position and their ideals.

The television adaptation is quite faithful, even though it turns the mystery almost inside out. Many of the things that Cadfael has to piece together along the way are presented right at the start of the episode. On the other hand, one of the final twists, which is heavily foreshadowed – almost explained ahead of time – in the book, is played from the other side so the viewer could be surprised. In that section the plot is a little rushed in the episode, and of course I like the character development more in the book, where there's more time for it. Also Godith isn't very convincing in the film. The actress does a fine job, it's just not really believable that she could pass as a boy.

However, Cadfael is extremely convincing, and that's the key to the show. I watched this show on PBS as a teenager, and it's where I learned to love Derek Jacobi. This episode gives a minor character a history with Cadfael to use as occasional exposition, but we are given the measure of the crusader-turned-monk simply beautifully in a confrontation with a pushy guard early on.

Jacobi has a great handle on Ellis Peters' dialogue, and perfectly presents that extraordinary balance of unruffled practicality, sardonic humor, righteous morality and gentle heart that characterizes Cadfael.

I was glad that I had read the book when I watched the episode, because even though it meant that I knew the solution to the mystery, I was able to mentally layer in the additional scenes and moments the television crew didn't have time to include. Watching the episode, on the other hand, highlighted the parts I liked best and really helped the book to resonate in my memory.

4 Stars – A Very Good Story, in both versions.

Free Comic Book Day is almost here!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

(Last year's haul)

We're getting awfully close to the grandest geek holiday of the year: FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!

Are you ready? Are you excited? May 5, 2012! It's the tenth anniversary of the first FCBD! WOO!

But Lindsay, you say, I'm not a comic reader.

Well, you could be. Graphic novels can be had on the cheap, digital comics are on the rise, the indie and small publisher scene is great right now, comics adapted from or spinning out of novel series are still pretty popular, and big-budget movies and stellar animation continue to spread the love for superhero stories.

Is there a place near me participating? 

You can check the widget in the sidebar here: although not all shops participating are in the widget. Or use Google to find your local comic shop and see if they have a website or give them a call to find out about events.

But I don't know anything about comics, and my local shop only gives away one or two free books per customer! What should I get?

Well, here's the official list: 'Gold' books will probably be at all locations, 'Silver' books are more likely not to be carried at small shops. Some shops will also give out local books with smaller print runs, swag like posters or pins, or books from previous years or other back issues if they run out of things from this year.

And here's my advice:

Fans of fantasy, gorgeous art, good storytelling, and/or a great deal:
Get Archaia Mouse Guard Sampler

If you are lucky enough to see this, grab it! Archaia is putting out a FREE HARDCOVER BOOK. A Sampler of NEW PAGES, even! Mouse Guard, Labyrinth (yes, the Henson movie!), and a bunch of other shorts!

Fans of all-ages humor and action: Get Atomic Robo

The Atomic Robo FCBD issues have been awesome and super-fun. Snarky super-science guys!

More good choices:
Top Shelf Kids Club is reliably adorable
DC Nation/Superman Family flipbook might have some fun all ages samples
Buffy/The Guild should be plenty of fun
Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel looks like an intriguing steampunky setting with manga-style art, from the writer of a YA Urban Fantasy series

Classic reprints up for grabs include Moomin, Donald Duck, Peanuts and Barnaby

Marvel and DC's main FCBD books purport to be intros to what's going on in their respective universes, and the writing will probably be decent, since both companies have their best-selling writers on the job. On the other hand, I usually don't find their pitches to be an effective use of pages on Free Comic Book Day. Try something new, something you've never seen!

Once you're home from the festivities, don't forget to check out a huge free digital sampler from Action Lab Comics (Info here: 200 pages from 11 titles, for FREE. Can't beat that!

Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

Friday, April 27, 2012

Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft
Writer: Joe Hill, Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez, Colors: Jay Fotos

Premise: Tyler, Kinsey and Bode are the Locke kids. They live in California. Or they did, until tragedy befell their family. Now they're moving to Lovecraft Massachusetts, to live in Keyhouse. Keyhouse is full of secrets, though, and some danger can follow you across the country, or across time...

This is a scary, creepy thriller in comic form, although I actually think I was a little spoiled by reading the Free Comic Book Day offering from this series last year. Because that meant I knew going in about the magic keys of Keyhouse, that lead to different places, or powers, or more. This volume is building the human story, so it takes a little while to get to most of the explicitly paranormal stuff.

It's interesting, but it's also bloody, gruesome, and full of broken people who make me a bit heartsick to read about. I liked the pacing, overall, and I like the way different issues highlight the different kids, and explore how they're handling their traumas.

I do think it spends a little too long with the trope where no one believes the one person who notices something seriously spooky is going on.

It reminds me some of the early sections of Sandman that I'm not as keen on, and there are echoes of Stephen King-like themes. (No surprises there, despite the pen name, “Joe Hill” is King's son.)

It's well done, but I didn't actually enjoy reading it that much. I think the series gets better, but I kept getting frustrated with characters making stupid – if justifiable – decisions. There was just too much dramatic irony (where the reader knows more than the characters) for me to fully empathize with the characters' point of view.

2 Stars – An Okay Book

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Canticle for Leibowitz
Walter M. Miller, Jr., 1960

Hugo Winning Novel -1961

Premise: It's the future, and it is a dark time. After a catastrophe known as the Flame Deluge, civilization was crushed back to the Dark Ages. Almost literally, in fact, since the only group of people trying to preserve the knowledge of the past for a future generation is an order of monks. They are devoted to an engineer known as Saint Leibowitz, who was martyred in the defense of books. This book follows three different generations of the Order, and examines the world they struggle to survive in.

I really enjoyed large swaths of this novel, but in the end I didn't find it fully narratively satisfying. The novel was adapted from three short stories, and each section ends rather abruptly and doesn't connect as much to the others as I wish it did. The sections take place hundreds of years apart, so this is more a story of the sweep of history than of any one character.

The first two sections I found very interesting. I liked piecing together what had happened from the garbled history that the monks knew, for example in the first section poor Brother Francis feared the Demon called Fallout. The second section dealt with tension between a growing secular movement for knowledge and discovery and the preservation of fragments and books by the Order, as well as power struggles between the Church and secular rulers. There are moving questions raised about the value of just preserving the past, and what can be learned vs. what should be learned, and whether anyone can make that judgment. The book seems to offer no answers or firm opinions. The third section is less frightening than I imagine it was when it first came out, but it's fairly strong, although rather a lot of it is taken up with a debate about euthanasia.

The methods and motivations to preserve knowledge in a world that feared it reminded me a lot of its predecessor Fahrenheit 451.

A Canticle for Leibowitz definitely comes from the early post-apocalyptic tradition, in which humanity's self-destruction seems inevitable. The entire book is a futuristic replay of human history, and the sense of recurrence without end is very poetic, but not reassuring.

It's interesting to read, and I liked several of the characters, but I had issues with it, too. There is quite a bit of Latin in the text to ground it in the Catholic tradition, but there wasn't always translation, and that sometimes got annoying. As I said above, there were plot elements that seemed like they were going to be important, that instead never returned or the plot fizzled to nothing. The ending was, to my mind, rather foolish and dull. (Spoiler: Most of the end is taken up with a subplot about the Abbot believing a mutant woman is... something divine?) What was going on was unclear to me, and it didn't follow what had come before thematically or follow the more interesting plotline until the last two pages.

Most of this book is about people talking to each other. Sometimes angrily, sometimes nonsensically; action and warfare almost always takes place offstage or between sections.

After saying all that, I do want to restate that I found it an interesting book to read, and I'm glad I read it. The first two-thirds or so was good enough to redeem some of what came after.

3 Stars – A Good Book

List of Hugo Award Winners

Batman: No Man's Land: Volume 1

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Batman: No Man's Land: Volume 1
Various authors and artists, 2011
Original Issues were released in 1999

Premise: Collects 21 Issues under 7 different titles that were part of the No Man's Land crossover. See Issue List at the end of the review. Gotham has been struck by a massive earthquake. Despite the efforts of Bruce Wayne, the government has decided to pull out of the city and evacate the population. Of course, not everyone leaves. These are the stories of those who stayed in No Man's Land.

For starters: yes, the premise is fairly silly. Furthermore, Batman is made somewhat ineffectual right at the start in what felt like a rather arbitrary manner, and I was often frustrated at him doing awkwardly dumb things in order to draw out the drama. However, this mostly isn't a book about Batman, and that's just fine.

The main stories revolve around Barbara Gordon (Oracle), the Gotham police, Helena Bertenelli (Huntress), Azrael, and the villains of Gotham who have divided the city amongst them, with Bruce as a supporting character throughout. It's from the 90's - which has its plusses and minuses. It's fairly melodramatic throughout, which I think sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

The art is up and down, and is done in a vast range of styles, some of which I like and some of which I hate. However, I'm really happy to be reading this straight through. This new graphic novel collects the Azrael issues, which apparently weren't in the earlier collection, and they've turned out to be some of my favorites. For a character stuck into Batman as an object lesson on how not to do Batman, I was surprised how much another writer was able to run with him, and make him sort of cool. Yes, he's a Vertigo-style tortured hero, but I really liked his stories. Despite how silly they were at times.

I especially liked how many of these stories focused on the women of Gotham. Oracle creates new low-tech networks of informants and helps wherever she can. Huntress keeps her neighborhood safe and doubles as a new Batgirl (fyi: it isn't actually revealed that it's her in these issues) to keep the heroes' visibility up. Gotham cop Renee Montoya starts the long journey toward her larger role in the DCU here with some nice supporting moments and a great short arc in which she works with Two-Face, who is helping rescue people trapped in the rubble - for now anyway. Physician Leslie Thompkins works with the sick and injured, and tries to stay neutral so she can help as many people as possible.

There's a complex arc about Huntress and Scarecrow battling for the spirit and safety of a refugee center in a church, a slightly silly two-parter in which Batman fights Penguin's whole operation, an awesome sequence when Bruce sends Azrael after the Joker, a one-shot when Superman tries to help, and more. This book is huge; it's full of stories. I don' t love all of them, and I only like about half the art, but overall I really enjoyed reading this, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the repackaged graphic novels.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Check Out Batman: No Man's Land, Vol. 1 on

Issue List: 
Batman: No Man's Land #1
Batman: Shadow of the Bat #83-86
Batman #563-566
Detective Comics #730-733
Azrael: Agent of the Bat #51-55
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #116-118
Batman Chronicles #16

Comics Briefly: The Ray #1-4, Wolverine and the X-Men #9

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This week: two titles that have a good handle on the balance between humor, drama and action. This post is half me just catching up, thanks to a back issue sale that netted me the entire Ray miniseries.

Wolverine and the X-Men #9 was new in stores today (4/18/12), while The Ray came out over winter/early spring.

The Ray #1-4 (4 issue miniseries)
Writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, Penciller: Jamal Igle, Inker: Rich Perrotta, Colorist: Guy Major

I had heard good things about this series, but I wasn't convinced enough to pick it up until I saw some excerpts online a few weeks ago. I'm pretty glad I did. It's a cute series, with likable characters and a smart sense of humor. It does feel a little copy-pasted from the great pre-reboot Blue Beetle run, but since what it's copying is a minority hero with a good heart and a down-to-earth sense of heroics, who has friends and parents that are both plausible and entertaining, I think I'm okay with that. The villain is intriguing, although we don't end up getting a lot of him, and Lucien is just so darn likable. The plot is serious and scary while managing to skirt most of the darkity-dark-for-dark's sake nonsense that's plaguing most of the DCU right now. The dialogue made me laugh out loud multiple times. The end was a little deus ex machina, but I'd rather that than doom and gloom at this point.

Wolverine and the X-Men #9 (Avengers Vs. X-Men Crossover)
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciler/Colorist: Chris Bacalo, Inkers: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey

THIS WAS AWESOME! This was so much more interesting than Avengers Vs. X-Men #1. It's official, the interesting parts of the crossover are all in this book. From Idie's thoughts on Hope and the Phoenix, to a much more interesting conversation between Cap and Logan than in the other book, to the ramifications caused by Phoenix both within the school and out in the galaxy, it's all great. The art is gorgeous and the dialogue zips along. I was particularly impressed that the issue managed to ratchet up the tension in a believable way while still keeping the zany touches that this title does so well. I laughed, I gasped, I want the rest of this story!

The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rien, Book One)

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rien, Book One)
Martha Wells, 2003

Premise: Tremaine lives in a world at war. Her home, the nation of Ile-Rien, has been besiged for years by the people known to them as the Gardier. They come in airships to bomb the cities, can disable engines and mechanisms from afar, and nothing Rien's highly educated sorcerers have come up with has been able to defend them. Somewhere both close and very far away, Ilias and Giliead live in a fishing village. There are indications that a wizard may be operating on the Isle of Storms, and they go to investigate. They are ready to kill, since of course all wizards are corrupt and insane. Tremaine's heirloom, a mysterious sphere, holds the key to a spell that will change the course of the war and bring two very different cultures face to face.

Now this is fabulous world-building. Ile-Rien is at a vaguely late-Victorian level of technology, plus some very civilized magic. Sypria is at a medieval level, plus a relationship with local gods and a pathological distrust of magic. The confrontation between the worlds does run the risk of feeling obvious when I describe it that way, but the characters are so unique and well drawn that I completely accepted both points of view.

Tremaine is a fantastic character from the first page. The last daughter of a somewhat checkered family, her inital melancholy introspection is soon driven into action. She is a mass of contradictory forces: well-spoken and well-educated but with a streak of only slightly buried violence and a fierce determination to win.

Ilias and Giliead I had a slightly harder time with at first, because their setting and mindset is so different that I didn't see how the two plots could fit together. Eventually I really liked them as well, though: fearless warriors with a dark sense of sardonic humor from a society that needs them but doesn't fully appreciate them.

I really enjoyed all the supporting characters as well; there is a complex web of allegiances which is constantly shifting. Hanging over the character drama is the looming threat of the Gardier, whose motives seem inscrutable. There is a huge reveal late in the book that was masterfully done, and while I expected a twist of some sort, I didn't imagine it would be so fascinating.

While I wouldn't characterize this book as extremely brilliant or ground-breaking, I did completely adore it, and I moved immediately on to Book Two.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Find The Wizard Hunters on

Comics Briefly: Saga #1 and #2, Princeless #4

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

With my pull list shrinking, I'm covering one book that came out today and a couple that I bought a week or two ago, but didn't review at the time.

Important Note: Both these books are awesome, but Princeless is suitable for All Ages and Saga is absolutely for Mature Audiences. 

Saga #2 was new in stores on 4/11/12

Princeless #4
Story: Jeremy Whitley, Art: M. Goodman

I wanted to make sure I took a minute to mention that I loved this last issue of the Princeless mini, even though my local store failed me and didn't have it the week it was supposed to come out. Did I wish there was just a little bit more story in these four issues? Yes. Will I still recommend the collection to everyone? Absolutely! The new friendship between Adrienne and Bedelia gets a lot more play here; I love that Bedelia is an ongoing character, I wasn't sure whether she was just introduced for Issue 3. Their relationship has a lot of potential to be awesome. Adrienne's mother gets a nice character moment, and the ending tag was pretty excellent as well. The character design work and the art continues to be awesome. You can order Issues 1-4 in the upcoming collection "Princeless: Save Yourself" through your local comic shop, which should come into stores on Apr 25. Do it now!

Saga #1 & #2
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Art: Fiona Staples

What can I say about this that hasn't been said? If you've been living under a rock or this is your only source of comic news, you might not know that Saga is a fascinating new space-opera-ish series by Brian K. Vaughan. It focuses on Marko and Alana, whose races are waging interstellar war on each other. They, however, are in love, and trying to flee from both their peoples. The writing is smart and funny and weird. I want to know more about all the strange races and characters who've been introduced so far. The design is amazing; it's inventive and incredibly original. It dances on the edge of being too "weird for weird's sake", but I don't think it quite tips over. The characters are grounded and intriguing, the world is crazier than anything I've seen in a long time. Check out this preview of #1 to see whether it's to your taste.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Neal Stephenson, 2011

Premise: Richard Forthrast used to be a drug smuggler, but these days, he's made his fortune in video games. At a family reunion, he decides to give his intelligent adoptive niece Zula a job in his company. Zula's boyfriend Peter gets involved with some serious identity theft, when his work is infected with a virus related to the MMORPG Zula works on. That's how the Russian mob gets involved. Communities of Chinese gold farmers, international terrorists and British spies all get involved later, as events spin further and further out of control, until Zula, Richard, their family and their new friends must face danger and death to try to save each other.

This is an action movie in prose form. As such, I quite enjoyed it. It's tense and brisk; I had trouble putting the book down.

It has far fewer info-dumping digressions than most of Stephenson's work, and in my opinion this is a good thing. (Not that I don't enjoy many of his infodumps, but I recognize that reading them can get exhausting.) It doesn't mean that this book is less intelligent, or less interesting, just that it is a little less work to read it.

I found all of the characters interesting and unique. In general I think this falls on the action movie scale: the main characters -both protagonists and antagonists, of all races and nationalities- are all intriguing and layered, so if the evil lackeys are a bit one-note, I'm not going to stress out about it.

Did I mention there are tons of main characters? There's a reason this book is over a thousand pages long; the twists and cliffhangers follow each person as groups of characters travel, splinter, re-group, etc. Zula is brave and pragmatic and amazing, of course, but Yuxia has such fierceness and heart, Csongor brims with both practicality and poetry, and the young hacker Marlon stands by his friends – old and new and questionably legal – with remarkable tenacity. I could go on, Solokov the Russian Special Ops who is smarter than he lets on, Jones the frighteningly charismatic terrorist leader... New major characters keep getting introduced until quite late into the book. I didn't even mention the extended Forthrast clan who play a large part, or the extraordinary folks who work with Richard on T'Rain, their multi-million dollar MMORPG.

My only criticism is that some of the inter-character romantic plots got a bit silly for me. Overall I liked them, but I got a bit tired of romance in the middle when I wasn't sure where some of the subplots were going. Not that there is much time for romance when everyone is flying at breakneck pace from action scene to action scene. Except when the action scenes are flashbacks about starting a tech company. The parallels amuse me, and the contrasts keep things zipping along. Well, the ending was a smidge weak, but whatever.

I'm not saying this is the best book ever written. I'm saying that I loved reading it, that reading it was a great experience. Sometimes, that's plenty.

5 Stars – An Awesome Book

Starship Troopers

Friday, April 6, 2012

Starship Troopers
Robert A. Heinlein, 1959

Hugo Winner - 1960

Premise: Johnny Rico wants to be a citizen, which means he has to join the military. Over his parents' objections, he enlists. He is placed in the Mobile Infantry, and learns to operate power armor, just in time for the human race to be faced with interstellar war.

I have a slightly complex relationship with this book, as I think many people do. I enjoy it as early military Sci-fi, I enjoy the action, I enjoy the world. The politics I think are a little slow. Not that the questions raised are uninteresting, or that I don't sympathize with some of the conclusions posed by the book, but whenever the scene turns into a didactic monologue, the pace of reading just slows to a slog.

It's a question of balance. I think there is too much monologue-ing and not enough dialogue, not enough questions that characters don't know the answers to, not enough action that affects the answers to these questions. The character building is weak, as well.

On the other hand, I have to give it credit for being so incredibly influential. So many franchises and books and movies that I love have roots here, mostly in the vision of humans in exo-suits fighting bug-aliens on distant planets.

The book is unapologetically pro-military and pro-military mindset, which doesn't really bother me in and of itself. At least there aren't any conveniently incompetent bureaucrats for the characters to rail against, they just made snide, unprovable comments about how things “used to be”.

There's some decent humor, and I do think the plot (thin as it is) is interesting. I do like this book, but I want to like it more than I actually like it.

3 Stars – A Good Book

List of Hugo Award Winners

Comics Briefly: Action Comics #8, Avengers Vs. X-Men #1, Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #3, Wolverine and the X-Men #8

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bit bigger haul this week, but I don't expect it to keep up...

Favorite Issue this week: Wolverine and the X-Men #8

All books new in stores on 3/4/12

Side Note: Congrats to the Princeless team for two shiny new Eisner Nominations! They deserve it!

Action Comics #8
Writer: Grant Morrison, Artists: Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Rick Bryant & Bob McLeod, Colorists: Brad Anderson & David Curiel

That... That was a thing that happened. Actually, I liked big chunks of this issue, but the bits I didn't like really threw off my overall enjoyment. Superman is super, Kryptonian, awesome: Good! Lex is a whiny little shell of a man, and not a credible villain: Bad! Gorgeous ending splash page: Good! Hideous art switch for 5 sort of important pages: Bad! So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm conflicted. I'm also pretty confused as to what was going on with Metallo and Brainiac; I'm not sure I got it all. However, the next issue takes place on Earth-23, so I guess it doesn't matter.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1
Script: Brian Michael Bendis, Pencils: John Romita Jr., Inks: Scott Hanna, Colors: Laura Martin

Wow, Cyclops has really gone off a bit, hasn't he? I understand the grasping at straws, though, because the mutants have really been screwed over by the universe in recent years. I really like that it's Magneto who's keeping a wary eye on Scott to make sure he doesn't go completely off the map. I'd read a lot of this issue in various previews, but I still really enjoyed it. The X-Men are a little outnumbered in this issue, but that could change quickly. I like that both sides here have a really good reason for pushing the other. Phoenix is a gamechanger.

Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #3
Writer: Tom Hutchinson, Artist: Alisson Borges, Colorist: Kate Finnegan

I'm still enjoying this spin on Wizard of Oz, although I get impatient waiting for the issues to come out! This issue features some bonding and banter for our characters, some action, and getting the whole gang together in time to spot an oncoming attack from the Witch. I like the spirit of this story, and I like the art, plus I love Gale and Scarecrow like crazy. With an indie like this, it's never really safe to assume you can get the trade later, so this is one title I'm going to keep collecting.

Wolverine and the X-Men #8
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciler/Colorist: Chris Bachalo, Inker: Tim Townsend

Woo! Two plots, two resolutions, one issue! That's what I like to see! The students go on an ill-advised jaunt led by Angel to try to fix the injury done to Wolverine last issue, while Beast faces off with Sabertooth...IN SPACE. There are some excellent moments for Angel and Genesis which I was excited to see. There were a few brief time-jumps for the storytelling so you have to pay attention, and overall this was just a great issue.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, Book One)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, Book One)
Robin LaFevers, 2012

New Release! Copy provided for review by Netgalley.

Premise: Ismae has been a pariah all her young life, marked from birth with a scar proclaiming her a daughter of Death. But being a daughter of Saint Mortain is not mere poetry, as she finds out when the Abbey takes her in and proposes to teach her to kill for the god. On her first major assignment, though, she'll have to balance the orders of the convent against her trust in her own heart and her loyalty to her young Duchess.

What a delightful blend this was! A nicely grounded historical fantasy with a well rounded, kick-ass heroine, and just a dollop of romance when the time is right. Ismae is totally compelling because her problems are both personal and political. She owes her happiness and life to the convent of Saint Mortain, she believes in her work, but she has to suspect everyone's motives before too long, and whether the duchess of Britanny survives to claim her crown may depend on who Ismae chooses to trust.

Did I mention she's totally kick-ass, too? The details about her training with weaponry and poison are pretty awesome. I wish she had been a bit more adept at politics at times, but she has very little to go on. I liked that she doesn't blindly trust her instincts, that she tries to judge her opinions with evidence and eventually second-guesses many of her initial assumptions.

Her death-related powers are fascinating, and all of those parts are written with gorgeous poetic prose.

Ismae's ability to deal death as an assassin is heavily contrasted with the powerlessness of all women in fifteenth-century society, and even her skills cannot help Ismae deal true justice. The theme of women trapped by circumstance and society starts on page one and runs throughout, but I never found it preachy.

I really wanted to know more about the other novitiates; there was some about them, but not as much as I would have liked. It looks like later books in the series will focus on different characters, though.

I really liked this book. It's not quite an instant all time favorite, but it was a great read.

4 Stars - A Great Book (Add a star if YA is your favorite genre)

Check Out Grave Mercy on