Monday, April 8, 2013

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

Dark Triumph
by Robin LaFevers
Read: April 4-6, 2013
Published: April 2, 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Source: Library
Series: His Fair Assassin, book 2

Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. Naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, the convent views Sybella as one of their most dangerous weapons.

But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?

This heart-pounding sequel to Grave Mercy serves betrayal, treachery, and danger in equal measure, bringing readers back to fifteenth century Brittany and will keep them on the edge of their seats. (From Goodreads)


One of my favorite aspects of reading series that feature companion books or multiple perspectives is the opportunity to love the second book more than the first, and as a result fully invest in a series. That has happened several times recently and I was very excited to discover it again with Dark Triumph the sequel to Grave Mercy. While I love the concept of assassin nuns and found the historical time period to be interesting, I wasn't blow away by Ismae's story, or all the court intrigue. However, when I found out that Sybella would be the focus of book 2, I was immediately intrigued. I convinced myself that I was going to fall in love with her story. Thankfully, this is one prediction that worked out perfectly for me. 

Dark Triumph features a lot of characters, in fact there is a two page list of them at the start of the book. Three of them stood out to me the most, and I'm going to spend most of my time talking about them. Three people plus two general points, means another review where I say 5 (longwinded) things.  

1.) Sybella. The brilliance of Dark Triumph lies in Sybella and her powerful journey out of darkness. This is a much more intimate, human tale than Grave Mercy, and it is all the better for it. Although the historical, political situation in Brittany is still very much a part of this story, Sybella is at its heart and soul. She has faced an overwhelming amount of physical, emotional and psychological trauma in her 17 years. Her fight to - not only - survive, but to thrive despite everything that has been done to her, is quite moving. Also, because this is much more of a personal book, I found it to be a lot more relatable. Within the historical fantasy setting is a very contemporary tale of survival and triumph.   

2.) Beast. We first met Benebic de Waroch in Grave Mercy where he is described as being an ugly man and a fierce warrior knight, who is legendary for his battle lust. In Dark Triumph he has been injured fighting to get the Dutchess to safety and is now a prisoner of D'Albret. This is where he meets Sybella, who has been stationed in D'Albret's household by the Abbess. I wasn't sure about how I would feel about Beast being the love interest at first, but he quickly worked his way into my heart. I could not imagine anyone more suited to Sybella than him. What I love is that while Sybella is tasked with rescuing him, in many ways he helps to free her.

Beast is fierce and loyal, and by the nature of who he is, gives Sybella the freedom to be herself. One of Beast's greatest strengths is his ability to inspire others. Through Sybella's interactions with him, she finds her own strength and worth. Beast does not judge Sybella, objectify or try to control her like every other man she's ever encountered. She sees his honor, despite his exploits in battle, his desire to protect the innocent, and it inspires her. Beast brings out the best in Sybella, but he also understands her desire for vengeance and blood. Their relationship grows slowly, but is one of mutual respect and trust, and by the end of this story I found him to be incredibly sexy (Yes, I said it. A sexy Beast). 

3.) Julian. The third character that stood out to me was one of the most frightening of Sybella's monsters in the beginning. I'm not talking about d'Albret, for whom all I felt was abject terror and loathing, but Julian was dangerous, because his behavior was justified by love for Sybella. 

(This part is slightly spoilery. It doesn't give away the plot, just details about this character.) Julian is just as trapped in d'Albret's household as Sybella is, and has suffered from the same amount of trauma. But he has also contributed to Sybella's torment and fear. However what I love about his place in this story is that he slowly morphs into a sympathetic character.  I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say he changes in the end, but I grew to understand and ache for him, despite what he has done. Julian's role in Dark Triumph is uncomfortable, but he makes this a much more complex psychological tale.  

4.) Mythology. Dark Triumph is historical fiction with fantasy elements, and the people of Robin LaFevers' Brittany worship a pantheon of 9 gods and goddesses. Their ability to worship the old gods is part of the way of life they are trying to protect from the French invasion. As handmaid of death (aka assassin nun), Sybella is a follower of St. Mortain, the god of death. Although the mythology was not something that I really connected to in the first book, it is one of the elements of Sybella's story that I came to love most. I think that is because this story is so much Sybella's personal journey, and her own faith was affected by her experience with the patron gods (also called saints) and their devoted followers. Beast's dedication to St. Camulos, the god of war, the charbonnerie's devotion to the Dark Mother, and Sybella's own meeting with Mortain, were all pieces of this story that I found to be incredibly moving, and important to Sybella's growth and understanding of herself. 

5) History and Politics. Although Sybella's story is the focus of Dark Triumph, her book is still part of a series that is set within an intense historical and political climate. Although I enjoyed exploring the landscape and mythology of late fifteenth century Brittany, the political intrigue is the least interesting part of this book for me.  This was partly due to the fact that I'd forgotten a lot of the set up of Grave Mercy and was slow to orient myself back into the action. Although there is a list of characters at the start of the book, I had a lot of trouble remembering who all the players were and what we knew about them already, especially the minor barons and advisors. Thankfully, enough was explained to follow this story, and re-reading was not necessary to enjoy Sybella's journey. However, I have a feeling the larger world will become even more important in final book of the series. 

I am so glad that I stuck with this series. Sybella's tale is heartbreaking, gripping, dark and triumphant. Also you do not want to miss Beast. I cannot wait to follow Annith in Mortal Heart, and to find out exactly what the Abbess has been up to. I do not trust the Abbess at all. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Low

I have the opportunity to meet Robin LaFevers on Wednesday of this week. 
If you could ask her one question, what would it be?


  1. YES. This is a fantastic review. I took the same journey with Julian, and while I don't know that I could completely justify his actions, at least I know what his motivations were. It's actually the question I asked Robin when I got to meet her last week. I felt like he was as much a victim of his circumstances as Sybella was, and that made him more a good person who did bad things rather than an evil person getting off on those deeds.

    Have fun meeting Robin! She's fabulous!

    1. Also, Beast seriously ended up being one of the sexiest characters I've ever read. I adore that man.

    2. That's a great point! I think Julian would have been a good guy if nurtured in normal circumstances. I can't imagine withstanding all that psychological trauma. He had no good models in his life! I was so freaked out by him in the beginning, but I'm amazed at LaFever's ability to make him sympathetic. And BEAST!!!! You are so right on that. I loved your recap of meeting this author.

  2. Wonderful review, L! More and more, I'm seeing that I'm in the minority with my undying love for Ismae and Duval, but I maintain that it is only slightly more than how much I loved the characters in this book. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one that feels the way I felt about Julian, and I feel like he is the stand-out in this book (to me, even maybe more than Sybella and Beast, but you know I love a great secondary cast). I'm so glad you liked this book a lot.

    To me, it felt like there were less court politics than in Grave Mercy, but I also think I'm reading that I may be in the minority in that as well. At any rate, it was one of my most anticipated books this year and it was so thrilling to have the chance to immerse myself in it. I loved being able to be in that world without having to actually be in it. Can't wait for Annith's book.

    So exciting for you to see the author! You get lots of great authors in your area and I always love your recaps!

    1. Maybe you could ask her if she expected for so many people to have such strong feelings toward Julian, like we did - I've read it several times now with different readers. I think his character is resonating with lots of people. Julian is fantastic for story progression, but his actual story just made me feels lots of different emotions. (Just a thought.) :)

    2. I love that you love Ismae and Duval so much! I didn't dislike them, I just didn't find them to be quite as compelling as Sybella and Beast. And I enjoyed getting a glimpse of them in this book. You're right, Julian IS the stand out in this book. With all those characters, he made me think the most, and my opinion of him changed drastically. I'm always amazed at the ability of authors to do that.

      I agree, there WERE less court politics. However, what I did see, wasn't my favorite part of this book. I remember being in the room with the duchess and her advisers, and I could not remember any individual details about them, so ti was hard for me to connect to that part of the story. I felt like I was missing crucial info to decipher the mood of what was happening. I have a feeling that it will all come to play again in the final book, so hopefully I can keep up - or reread. And Annith! I am very intrigued about where the author will take her. She's so very different from Sybella.

      That is a great question! Thanks, Ash. I'll let you know what she says.

  3. I love this review! I love how you chose to focus on those three characters (who were my favorite in the book too) as well as the complex mythology and political storyline. I agree with everything you said. I especially love this line:

    "Also, because this is much more of a personal book, I found it to be a lot more relatable. Within the historical fantasy setting is a very contemporary tale of survival and triumph."

    YES! Exactly. That is exactly how I felt but you summed it up perfectly. There was a distance with Ismae's character in GM that I could quite get past. Still loved the book, but the emphasis on the historical and political over the personal kept me at bay. But Sybella's story is SO up close and personal and that absolutely does make it feel like a contemporary "Issues" book, which as you know, are my favorites:)

    And Beast! Yes, maam, he was most definitely a sexy Beast (heh, heh, heh:) And I too loved how a character as fierce as he was turned out to be the only man to treat Sybella as she deserved to be treated. Those two are perfect for each other, in my opinion:)

    Great review, Lauren!

    1. You're right. I truly felt like I was able to get inside of Sybella in a way that I was never able to with Ismae. Such a difficult road, but worth it. And though her experiences were very tough and dramatic, Sybella was relatable. I think Julian played into that. The way that this author made these characters flawed and struggle with intense psychological issues, and how I could see that someone caught in that terrible environment could become very confused about appropriate behavior.

      I just love the interplay between Beast and Sybella. How this fierce warrior was able to show her what true unconditional love is like, and that was partly because he is a knight. Such a fantastic character.

  4. I agree with ALL your points! I loved Sybella in this, so much more than Ismae who just made me nod off to sleep way too many times in GM. Sybella had so many layers to her and as we kept peeling them back, I kept falling more and more in love with her strength and character. And, of course, Beast. I think what I love about him is that he's so accepting of Sybella. All his actions are so right and true and I loved that Sybella finally could find someone who appreciated her for who she was.

    I had conflicted feelings about Julian for most of the novel, but I wound up feeling terrible for his character by the end. I think I could sympathize with him more because I'd read Forbidden before, which really sheds light on incestuous relationships, than because of any understanding LaFevers instilled, but I really loved him by the end. I was also hesitant on the mythology/religious aspect since it seemed a little too typical of religions today, but I'm glad that it wasn't preachy at all and only served as a means for Sybella to find herself more clearly in the world. Even the politics was brilliantly subdued, so instead of boring political parties, I enjoyed the war councils far more.

    Brilliant review, Lauren! I'm so glad the two of us are on board with this series now. I can't wait for Annith's tale! :D

    1. Exactly! Getting up and personal with Sybella and all of her demons and struggles made this book stand out in a way that Ismae's story could not do. I know that Annith will be different, but I'm hoping that LaFevers is able to make us love her as well.

      Julian is such a tough character. He made me break out in sweat more than d'Albret at the beginning - mostly because we KNEW d'Albret was always going to be scary. But slowly I felt pangs of sympathy for him. I haven't read Forbidden, and I don't think I could handle it. But I have seen Flowers in the Attic, and I can understand where sharing a bond through an intensely difficult upbringing could lead to this. With everything else going on in d'Albret's household, it was not surprising. I just felt so sad for him in the end.

      You're right. The mythology worked so well because of how it connected Sybella to her world and changed how she understood herself.

  5. The funny thing was that Sybella was so … angry in Grave Mercy that I was worried that I wouldn't be able to connect with her. So I had this ARC for months and was afraid to read it. I was an idiot, because I was so moved by this story. And Annith seemed a little bland to me in GM, but I have no doubt that Robin LaFevers will make me love her too.

    PS yay for no love triangles.

    1. I'm glad you finally picked this one up! I work myself up over books too, and then I fall in love with them and kick myself. Hopefully Annith will shine as well. She is very different from Sybella, but is intelligent and I don't want to count her out either.

      I always breath a sigh of relief when there is no love triangle - it would have been totally distracting and off here!

  6. You don't trust Annith at all? In the first book, she was the one I liked the best and I wanted to know all about her perspective on things. I wonder if something happens in the second book now regarding her!

    I enjoyed Grave Mercy but didn't love it. My favorite aspect though was definitely the political intrigue. I just am fascinated reading about the political intrigue of queens and kings and kingdoms. I do think I'll enjoy Sybella as a protagonist, but I do hope there's still some twisty political intrigue that I can enjoy. I guess I'll find out soon enough!

    And lucky you! Last Friday I found out that Robin LaFevers was having a signing in Chicago this past Sunday, which is the closest to my home, but I couldn't plan things out enough to attend. Oh well. Maybe next year. I hope you have a great time though and I can't wait to read a recap of the event!

  7. Beast and Sybella have one of the most beautiful relationships I've read in YA recently. So perfect.

    This book was SO dark but I loved that LaFevers went to the places she needed to go to for Sybella's character. What an incredible heroine.


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