Mundie Moms

Monday, July 2, 2012

Interview with Grave Mercy author Robin LaFevers

I am so excited about today interview. Robin's YA debut is one of my all time favorites, not just for this year, but as a whole. Today she's stopped by to answer a few of my questions about her book, Grave Mercy. You can read my 5 star review here.

Hi Robin! How would you describe your debut in 5 words or less?

Teen assassin nuns in medieval France. Hm. That’s six. How about: Newbie assassin nun finds love?

You have such a vivid historical setting, and some incredible references ie: the clothes your characters wear, how they act etc. I felt like I was whisked away to that time period. How much research did you do before/while writing Grave Mercy?

I’ve always been fascinated (read: obsessed) with the medieval time period and have researched it a lot over the years, just out of personal curiosity and then later for various writing projects. So I had some general knowledge of the time period and the setting, but for Grave Mercy I had to do much more detailed and focused research. Ha. I say had to, but what I really mean is, Igot to, because I adore research, that mini-quest for the perfect detail that will bring a scene alive, or that perfect fact that will connect all the pieces of the plot into a cohesive whole. The thing is, I always find it. The answers I need, even when writing historical fantasy, are always there hiding somewhere in the research.

So I researched what they ate, and the clothes they wore, and the bigger world view issues such as how big a part religion played in their lives (huge! Some people went to church two or three times a day!) what their concerns were, their superstitions.  

One of the things I find most fascinating about writing historical fantasy is really trying to understand the worldview of people living in earlier times. What was life like without technology, where there was little understanding of science or the laws of physics and so much of life felt random and out of one’s control? Since Ismae belonged to a convent that served Death, what would her faith look like? How would her devotion be tested? What sorts of rituals would her life entail? Those questions were in the forefront of my mind whenever I sat down to write and helped me get into the head of a 15th century girl—what metaphors and similes would she use? What points of reference would she have?   

I also tried to (mostly!) use words that were only in use prior to the 16th century or phrases that felt reminiscent of that era. I definitely fudged sometimes; when the choice came down to readability I went for that over historical accuracy every time, because my overriding goal was that the story and the voice of Ismae be accessible to today’s teen reader

You have a lively cast of characters, and it was fun getting to know each of them. Which character was the easiest for you to write and which one was the hardest?

Ismae was actually really hard for me to nail down at first. Partly because it took a while to get into the head of a 17 year old girl living in the 15th century, but also because it was such a complex story and took place on such a convoluted historical canvas that it was easy for Ismae to get lost among the crowd. I had to really work on finding HER story versus a story of the political events or the duchess or any of the other interesting things going on at the time.

The first two or three drafts of the story started out being in third person POV, but when I switched to first person, Ismae became more accessible to me, but I still kept running into a jam. Finally, in desperation, I started an Ismae Journal, where I would just journal her thoughts and feelings as if she were keeping a diary. For some reason I started that journal in 1st person present tense and the moment I did that, she became completely accessible to me. But oh the pain of having to rewrite yet again!

Sybella came very easily—she literally just walked into her first scene and practically took over the entire book. That was when I realized Book Two was hers. J Of course, being the contrary thing that she is, that was the only time anything ever came easily with Sybella. I now refer to her book, DARK TRIUMPH, as the Book That Nearly Killed Me.

What inspired your story?

You know, I just started getting this itch, this desire to write a great big, sweeping, epic romance. Not just in the boy meets girl sense, but in the tradition of the medieval tales that told of knights and chivalry, hard choices, and lives and kingdoms lost.

And then I thought, nah. You can’t write that kind of book for teens. But the idea stayed with me and wouldn’t leave. So just on a lark, I let myself start noodling around, researching the middle ages and different countries and milieus that might make an interesting backdrop for such a story. When I learned about Anne of Brittany, something clicked and I realized that maybe, just maybe, this might work. After all, the middle ages were a very young society—teens held positions of power and were making major life decisions. That might be the exactly right place to set a book with teens front and center.

I also knew I wanted to write the story of a girl who was utterly powerless and put her through all the trials and ordeals that would shape her into an instrument of power—not just physical power, but also the power to stand firmly in her own self and make her own choices and decisions.

Then I stumbled across another fascinating research tidbit and learned that many women in the Middle Ages preferred joining a convent to marriage because convent life gave them more independence and autonomy than they could ever have as married women! That kind of lit my imagination on fire and began to play with what sort of convent would be the best avenue for my heroine’s journey, and I decided on a convent that would give her power over life and death.  

What are some of your favorite historical reads (YA or adult)?

Some of my favorite historical reads are The Crystal Cave books by Mary Stewart, anything by Juliet Marillier or Jacqueline Carey, the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray, (and I am SO looking forward to her DIVINER series!) The Mistress of the Art of Death series by Ariana Franklin. I would also include fantasy books that are so fully realized that they feel like historical to me, Megan Whalen Turner’s books, or Elizabeth Bunce’s books. But really, there isn’t enough historical fantasy in the world, which is one of the reasons I write it.

If you could add one of your favorite fictional characters into Grave Mercy, who would you add and why?

Oh what a fascinating idea! I’m torn between Katniss, whom I think Ismae would have a lot in common with, or Dumbledore, who would act as a supportive mentor and would have encouraged her to ask questions a lot sooner.

What's the best piece of writing advice you've been given, that you'd want to pass one to other aspiring writers?

You know that book you’re terrified to write? The one that is too hard, too scary, too weird, or too damn intimidating. Yeah, that one. That’s the one you need to write.We only acquire those writing muscles by working them, and it is only when we expose true parts of ourselves that we open ourselves up to genuine, authentic connecting with our readers. 


Thank you Robin for stopping by Mundie Moms today! 

About the Author:
Follow Robin on her: Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

About the book:

Released on: April 3rd, 2012
Purchase from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
Series:  His Fair Assassin series, Book 1

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf? 

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. 

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?-quoted from Goodreads

Want to win a copy of Grave Mercy?! Check out my giveaway I have going on for my top 3 favorite YA debuts in 2012, which features Grave Mercy!


  1. I would love to win Grave Mercy. Thanks for the giveaway!

  2. I haven't seen the trailer until now, but it looks awesome! My sister reviewed this one on our blog a few months ago and she loved it. Great interview!

    I hope you'll stop by!
    Asma @ IceyBooks

    1. Thank you! I hadn't seen the trailer until today either. It's a great trailer.

  3. Great interview. I loved reading about Robin's research to get the historical facts right. Your review and interview have gotten me really excited to read this. Thanks.

    1. Thank you Natalie. I did too. I find it fascinating hearing about an author's research for their book. I hope you pick this one up! I seriously LOVED it!

  4. Yay I just ordered this book and it's on its way! Can't wait to read it. It sounds AMAZING.

  5. Fab interview! I've recently finished reading Grave Mercy and really, really LOVED it!