This book has everything I love in a novel: Historical fantasy, playing with expectations of gender roles, awesome ladies, political intrigue, and subtle touches of feminism.
So I'm disappointed to say that while I liked it, I didn't outright love it like I wanted to. I'm not sure what it is about the novel, but I just didn't respond to it as much as I thought I would.
The world building was good and layered, though I wish we'd spent more time at the convent. Especially because later Duval is poking so many holes in how they teach things there, and Ismae begins to doubt everything there, but it didn't really have a lot of impact on me because we honestly hadn't spent much time there.
While the political intrigue was, well, intriguing, I figured out who the traitor was way before the book wanted me to. The entire time I wanted to jump into the book and point at the person and yell at Ismae, "RIGHT THERE!! USE YOUR BRAIN!"
Speaking of Ismae, I honestly wasn't taken with her as a character. Possibly because she showed a lot of disdain for things generally coded as "feminine"; pretty dresses, knowing how to curtsey and act like a noble lady, etc. It gets so grating to read about after a while, and granted she does eventually drop it, but by then the damage had been done. The worst part is she doesn't really get into trouble at the court once she's there, despite never really paying attention to the classes that would have taught her how to properly behave. Things are incredibly easy for her when they shouldn't be, and I felt it cheapened her story by a lot.
I also wasn't into her and Duval as a romantic couple. Bickering couples aren't my thing, and Duval especially lost any of my interest when he basically pins Ismae to the chair on their second meeting and tries to physically intimidate her. I had rather hoped she would kick him in the groin then, but alas, no.
Still, I wasn't bored while I was reading it and the pacing didn't bother me (I thought it was quite even, actually, if a slower kind of pace). I'll still look into Dark Triumph, but I'm going to hope it's improved from Grave Mercy.